Neilson Spearhead Center - Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society

Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society (MHAS) owns and manages Neilson Spearhead Center (NSC), a 466-acre tract of prime wilderness southwest of Bemidji, Minnesota surrounding Spearhead Lake. 

With the exception of the sky blue lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota, there aren't many unpopulated lakes left in the state. Most lakes are ringed with homes and are abuzz with human activity. Yet, here in the northland, in the heart of a fishing paradise full of tourists, resorts, lakes, and rivers, there is actually a place where one can visit to appreciate nature in a peaceful and natural setting. That place is the Neilson Spearhead Center.

Located only eleven miles southwest of Bemidji, and less than a mile from Lake Plantagenet, the 450-plus acre Neilson Spearhead Center nestled alongside beautiful Spearhead Lake, is a jewel in the forest. The entire shoreline of this tranquil lake is natural: from the lake's emergent vegetation to the forested uplands.

Wildlife abounds throughout the sanctuary. White-tailed deer, black bear, fisher, otter, flying squirrels, and even wolves. Bird life flourish year around. In the summertime, birders are routinely treated with sightings of numerous species of woodland warblers, thrushes, nesting loons, and osprey, as well as great blue herons, wood ducks, trumpeter swans,and other species of waterfowl.

Plant life is just as diverse, if not more so. Abundant fruit and nut-bearing trees, shrubs, and herbs provide wildlife with food and shelter. Tall jack pine and Norway pine are prevalent, as are birch and balsam pines. In the bogs one can find tamaracks.  Well over 200 plants have been observed and recorded at Neilson Spearhead Center.

The lake and woodlands are alive with the songs and calls of birds. And furry mammals of many kinds, as well as terrestrial and aquatic insect life, frogs and toads of several species, painted and snapping turtles, fishes like walleye, northern pike, and bluegill sunfish, and countless other species of wildlife inhabit the riches the Center provides.

 Protected Forever:

The land was acquired by George W. Neilson in the 1930s. In 1978, George Neilson’s daughter, Katharine Neilson Cram, donated the property to The Nature Conservancy, which later deeded it to the MHAS.The MHAS board of directors acknowledges that the NSC is a very special place that should be protected into the future. In order to ensure this, the MHAS entered it into a perpetual conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust on April 6, 1999.

Today the NSC property remains in MHAS ownership and the title ensures protection remains in place regardless of future land ownership.Our stewardship responsibility includes maintaining the integrity of the natural communities present on the NSC property and providing opportunities for experiential education and research.

Visit our web page for lots more information about Spearhead and our Audubon chapter.

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Latitude: 47.380501 Longitude: -94.963492 Elevation: 1429 ft
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Recreational Opportunities

Neilson Spearhead Center is a diamond in the rough. There's something for everyone; something to discover; and something to appreciate, cherish, and preserve. Getting out to enjoy the great outdoors has never been made easier.

And just as importantly, it is also a place of discovery. Every summer, children of all ages attend naturalist led programs that teach them about the outdoor world. The education committee of MHAS organizes and administers this successful and engaging program. It’s also place where outdoor enthusiasts can cross-country ski, snowshoe, or ice fish on winter days. And to help visitors become acquainted with the Center, caretakers live on-site and are always there to help.

It is, of course, a difficult task to paint a descriptive picture of the Neilson Spearhead Center with words alone. But to stroll on a nature walk on its many trails, to sit under whispering pines overlooking the sparkling lake, to probe Revoir Creek for signs of rare plant and animal life, or to paddle a canoe around the lake to fish or just enjoy the sound of paddle hitting water as you glide your craft silently through the shallows, comes pretty close. There is something for everyone, young and old alike, at the Neilson Spearhead Center. 

Seasons Accessible

Accessible year-round for hiking, bird watching, snowshoeing, nature walks, canoeing and more.

Convenience Facilities:
Year-round outhouse
Year-round screened-in porch with shelter on three sides
Fire pit
Picnic tables
Running water - by request in Summer

Wilderness Experience Facilities:
Boat launch on southern shoreline
Canoe launch on eastern shoreline
Extensive trail system
Bog boardwalk


Free for groups of six or fewer. Larger groups need to contact MHAS for a permit.

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets on a leash only.

No horses.

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