At 230 acres, Terrace Oaks West is the largest park in the City of Burnsville park system. The entire park is oak woodland. There are 3.8 miles of summer hiking trails, 2.5 miles of mountain bike trails, about 6.8 miles of winter ski trails, and about 1.7 miles of winter hiking trails.
With the help of Great River Greening, 19 acres at the northwest corner of the park are undergoing restoration to oak savanna. The project began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in 2017. Invasive woody species, including buckthorn and boxelder, have been cut, reduced to wood chips, and carted away. The area will undergo a controlled burn to stimulate the growth of understory vegetation. Following that, it will be seeded with 6 to 8 species of prairie grasses and 20 to 30 species of wildflowers.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Pilot Knob is an historic site in Mendota Heights on the east bank of the Minnesota River. Two overlooks provide spectacular vistas of Fort Snelling, the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, and the Minneapolis skyline. A half-mile of paved and mowed trails include interpretive signs that describe the history of the site. The trail connects to Dakota County’s Big Rivers Regional Trail, a paved bike trail. Bald Eagles and migrating raptors are often seen flying overhead.
Pilot Knob is known to the Dakota as Oheyawahi, or “a hill much visited.” It served as a burial site for for Dakota Villages along the Minnesota River. It is here that the Dakota signed a treaty in 1851 that transferred millions of acres of land to the United States. The City of Mendota Heights acquired 25 acres on the hill in 2006. Overhead power lines were buried underground, brush was cut and removed, prairie was restored, and wildflowers and oak trees were planted.
Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township is one of three units that make up the 862-acre Bald Eagle-Otter Lakes Regional Park. Its 320 acres encompass oak-aspen woodland, restored prairie, and marsh and other wetlands. It has four miles of hiking trails that include an interpretive trail and boardwalks over wetlands. In the winter, some of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Osprey and Bald Eagle have been seen flying overhead. For the kids it has Discovery Hollow Nature Play Area & Garden and many programs offering educational opportunities.
Leif Mountain is a The Nature Conservancy preserve in Kandiyohi County. Its 801 acres protect a diverse mix of habitats including wet, mesic, and dry prairies, oak forest, cattail marsh, and three lakes.
There are three parking areas on Leif Mountain (see map above) giving access to three very different areas, and visitors should consider exploring all three. The south parking area is on 47 acres that includes about 20 acres of wet and mesic prairie, a 1-acre pond and cattail marsh, and a 2-acre pond. The remainder of this section is cattail marsh. A narrow dry land bridge leads to a wooded peninsula jutting into the marsh south of Section Twelve Lake. Access from the south area to the rest of the preserve is blocked by the lake and by cattail marsh.
The southwest parking area is on 27 acres. It includes two native plant communities, 2½ acres of Dry Sand – Gravel Prairie (Southern) and 1½ acres of Mesic Prairie (Southern), and 5 acres of mixed woodland and wet and mesic prairies. The remainder of the area is cattail marsh.
The west parking area is on about 340 acres. It includes two unnamed lakes, 80 acres of Dry Sand – Gravel Prairie (Southern), 13½ acres of Basswood – Bur Oak – (Green Ash) Forest, and a mix of mesic prairie, wet prairie, and cattail marsh. The high quality forest has common and rare woodland species not found other places on the preserve.
Several species with conservation status in Minnesota have been seen on Leif Mountain, including American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, regal fritillary, and American ginseng.
Tympanuchus Prairie is a The Nature Conservancy preserve in Polk County. It was acquired with funds provided by the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was created by the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. Its 160 acres of mesic and wet prairie protect habitat for the Greater Prairie Chicken, a species of special concern in Minnesota. is bordered on the east and in part on the north by Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The southeast corner is adjacent to Thorson Prairie WMA.
Visitors to Tympanuchus Prairie this week (8/28 to 9/3/2016) will see many prairie plants at or near their peak blooming time. These include flat-topped, New England, smooth blue, white heath, and white panicled asters; Maximillian and stiff sunflowers; bottle and lesser fringed gentians; and giant, grass-leaved, late, Riddel’s, and stiff goldenrods. If they are lucky, they may even see a Great Plains ladies’ tresses in full bloom.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) is a 72-mile, 53,775 acre corridor along the Mississippi River. It stretches in the north from Weigh Station Highway Park on US Highway 10 in Ramsey to the Dakota County/Goodhue County border in the south. MNRRA, pronounced “minnra”, is a partnership park, a new and unique kind of national park. Aside from the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center, Coldwater Spring is the only parcel of land within the MNRRA owned by The National Park Service.
The site that is now Coldwater Springs was formerly owned by the Bureau of Mines. In 2011 and 2012 the buildings were demolished, invasive species were removed, trees were planted, and native plants were seeded. The goal was to restore the oak savanna, 12 acres of prairie, and one acre of wetland.
Greenwater Lake SNA is 815 acres of second-growth mixed hardwood and coniferous forest with many small wetlands and the 81-acre Greenwater Lake. It is on the White Earth Indian Reservation and is bordered on the north and west by Becker County Forest land. The lake is fed by a stream to the north and is mostly surrounded by forested hills. It is popular with anglers fishing for bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye. The shoreline is undeveloped. A 1.8-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the SNA.
Thirteen native plant communities have been identified on Greenwater Lake SNA. A survey in 1980 found 34 butterfly species here, including eastern pine elfin, green-veined white, and Appalachian brown. If you plan to visit this month (August, 2016), bring a can of mosquito repellent. You will need it.
Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo is a County of Olmsted park less than 20 minutes west of Rochester. The 620 acres of mostly woodland span both sides of a bend in the Zumbro River, South Branch, Middle Fork. It includes about 12½ miles of hiking trails. The trails pass through moist oak-hickory forest along the river, through drier oak forest along the crests and upper slopes of the river bluffs, and around a restored or recreated prairie carved out of the woods at the bluff top. Some of the trails are narrow footpaths through dense forest, some are two-track seldom used utility roads through more open woodlands, some are wide mowed paths skirting the prairie.
Oxbow Park contains two native plant communities. Three plants with conservation status in Minnesota are found here: handsome sedge, an endangered species; and rattlesnake master and white wild indigo, both special concern species. The Nature Center and Zollman Zoo are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. They may not be open yet when you arrive early in the morning, and may be already closed when you finish your hike in the late afternoon.
Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center is a 725-acre private preserve spanning both sides of the St. Croix River. It is free and open to the public. The 425-acre Minnesota “Campus” is in Washington County just northeast of Hastings. The Visitor Center has a number of live animals on display, including a Bald Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon. A number of non-native trees and shrubs around the Visitor Center and parking area will challenge the identification skills of any visiting plant enthusiast.
The Minnesota Campus includes areas of grassland, oak savanna, red pine plantation, deciduous forest, and wetland. It also includes three native plant communities. On the east side of St. Croix Trail (County Hwy. 21) there are 5.6 miles of trail, 3.5 miles of them paved, leading across river bluffs, into deep forested ravines, and through floodplain forest bordering the St. Croix River. On the west side of the road about 4 miles of mowed trail wind through a 150-acre restored prairie.
Kasota Prairie, not to be confused with nearby Kasota Prairie Scientific and Natural Area, is a 90-acre private preserve in Le Sueur County. It is owned and managed by Unimin Corporation in cooperation with Save the Kasota Prairie, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. It is open to the public.
Kasota Prairie contains virgin prairie, previously grazed and restored prairie, forested river bluffs, and shoreline of the Minnesota River. It includes three small pockets of one native plant community, Dry Sand – Gravel Prairie (Southern).
Birders can see Eastern Meadowlark and Dickcissel on the prairie, Baltimore Oriole and Great Crested Flycatcher on the bluffs, Belted Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron on the river, and Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture soaring overhead. Hikers this week (6/5 to 6/11/2016) will find hoary puccoon, Canada Anemone, golden alexanders, and a few prairie violets in bloom.