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Cutfoot Experimental Forest


The Cutfoot Experimental Forest, established in 1932, contains about 1,255 ha. The Sunken Lake Research Natural Area consisting of about 726 ha is contained within it.

The portion of Minnesota Highway 46 that passes through the Cutfoot is called the Avenue of Pines. The Avenue is well known for its scenic beauty and the outstanding pine forest. Most people who drive through the Avenue do not realize that it is one of the most intensively managed red pine forests in northern Minnesota.

Cutfoot contains a large stone memorial with a plaque commemorating Dr. Rafael Zon, who was instrumental in establishing the research branch of the USDA Forest Service and designating the first experimental forests. His ashes were scattered in the area of the memorial.


The climate at the Cutfoot is continental. Maximum summer temperatures are > 32 °C with high humidity (80 percent) and minimum winter temperatures plunging to -35 °C. Growing season length is 100 to 120 days. Average annual precipitation is 50 to 64 cm; snow depths average 1 to 2 m. Although prolonged summer droughts occur, there is usually adequate rainfall during the growing season.


Well-drained medium to fine sand developed in glacial outwash parent materials. The soils are typical of the natural red pine and mixed pine stands of northern Minnesota.


The major forest type, roughly 75 percent of the Cutfoot, is red pine with varying amounts of jack and eastern white pine. Paper birch and quaking aspen are common components of the pine-dominated stands and in some places are the most dominant species. Site index for red pine is about 55 (based on age 50 years).

The majority of the red pine stands in the forest are of natural origin. Most red pine originated after a major fire in 1870. Based on fire scars there have been seven major fires in the forest: during 1865, 1870, 1876, 1888, 1892, and 1918. There are scattered red pines that are more than 200 years old. These trees are remnants left to meet a reserve tree requirement during initial logging.

Plantations occupy a small percentage of the Cutfoot. The most notable areas of planted red pine are the Greely Lake and Gravel Pit stands. A major feature of the red pine in the forest is the understory composed mostly of beaked hazel. A major objective of the prescribed burning research conducted in the 1960s was to reduce the density of this species and improve understory conditions for red pine regeneration.

Research, Past and Present

Research on the Cutfoot began in the mid-1920s, before the area was officially designated as an experimental forest. Research to date has focused almost exclusively on silviculture of the red pine type, with emphasis on methods of thinning and intermediate cutting. There has also been some work with jack pine. There have been no new studies established on the forest in the last decade. A large study of red pine variable overstory retention and mixed conifer regeneration is ongoing on the same site type, immediately adjacent to the forest.

Major Research Accomplishments and Effects on Management

The major accomplishments come from results of the three long-term studies mentioned earlier. These have helped to provide the basis for silviculture of red pine in the region, particularly intermediate harvest regimes.


Collaborators from the Chippewa National Forest have worked on the Cutfoot.

Research Opportunities

There are opportunities to do additional work (for example, describe the understory or study individual tree growth) in the long-term study areas. To date, there are no baseline plots established in most of the Sunken Lake Research Natural Area.


There is no on-site housing, but resorts in the area provide opportunities for short-term rentals. Nearest communities are Squaw Lake to the north and Deer River to the south. Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is about a 45-minute drive to the southeast. There are numerous woods roads in the forest, making most of the area readily accessible.

Lat. 47°40′ N, long. 94°5′ W

Contact Information

Cutfoot Experimental Forest
USDA Forest Service
Northern Research Station
USDA Forest Service
1831 Highway 169 E
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Tel: (218) 326-7116

Related Publications

Young, Brian D.; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Kern, Christel C.; Kastendick, Douglas N.; Palik, Brian J. 2017. Seven decades of change in forest structure and composition in Pinus resinosa forests in northern Minnesota, USA: Comparing managed and unmanaged conditions. Forest Ecology and Management. 395: 92-103.

Alban, D.H., 1977. Influence on soil properties of prescribed burning under mature red pine. USDA Forest Service, St. Paul, Minnesota, Research Paper, NC-139.

Lugo, Ariel, E.; Swanson, Frederick, J.; Gonzalez, Olga, R.; Adams, Mary Beth; Palik, Brian; Thill, Ronald, E.; Brockway, Dale, G.; Kern, Christel; Woodsmith, Richard; Musselman, Robert.  2006.  Long-term research at the USDA Forest Service’s experimental forests and ranges.  BioScience 56(1) 39-48.

Buckman, Robert E. 1964. Effects of prescribed burning on hazel in Minnesota. Ecology. 45(3): 626-629.

Buckman, Robert E.; Bishaw, Badege; Hanson, T.J.; Benford, Frank A. 2006. Growth and yield of red pine in the Lake States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-271. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Research Station. 114 p.

Buckman, R.E.; Lundgren, A.L., 1962. Three pine release experiments in northern Minnesota. USDA Forest Service, Lakes States Forest Experiment Station, St. Paul, Minnesota, Station Paper No. 99.

Kern, Christel C.; Palik, Brian J.  2004.  Growth and yield of extended rotation red pine stands in Minnesota, USA.  Presented at the North American Forest Biology Workshop, July 12-15, 2004 in Houghton, Michigan, USA. 

Kern, Christel C.; Palik, Brian J.; Elioff, John.  2006.  Longterm effects of prescribed fir on woody plant communities in red pine ecosystems: evaluating season and frequency of burning 40 years after treatment. Presented at the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council Meeting, January 24-26, 2006, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, USA.

Lundgren, A. L. 1963.  Economic analysis of three pine release experiments in n. Minnesota. For. Sci. 9(2):242-256.

Summary information presented here was originally published in:

Adams, Mary Beth; Loughry, Linda; Plaugher, Linda, comps. 2004. Experimental Forests and Ranges of the USDA Forest Service. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-321. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station. 178 p.

Information may have been updated since original publication.

Last Modified: 09/05/2018