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.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
At 583 acres Crosby Farm Regional Park is the largest park in the City of St. Paul park system. It sits north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. It is near the northern end of a 22 mile continuous track of protected river corridor stretching from Cherokee Regional Park in St. Paul to Valleyfair in Shakopee.
Crosby Farm Regional Park provides 6.7 miles of hiking trails through river bottomland. It contains oak forested bluffs, floodplain forest, various wetlands, and two lakes. Four native plant communities are found within its borders. It is frequently flooded in the spring.
Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area protects 60.5 square miles of moist hardwood forest and wetlands in east-central Minnesota. About sixty percent of the WMA is forested, mostly moist red oak – basswood forest. The remainder is wetland, mostly sedge meadow and willow – dogwood shrub swamp. There are 80 parking areas and about 100 miles of forest roads, hiking trails, and hunter walking trails within the WMA.
Hunters can stalk deer, bear, small game, forest birds, and waterfowl. Fur-bearer trapping is allowed with a permit. Non-game wildlife found here include red-shouldered hawk and four-toed salamander, both species of special concern in Minnesota. Protected plants found here include bog bluegrass, little goblin moonwort, narrow triangle moonwort, and least moonwort.
Visitors to Mille Lacs WMA on Memorial Day weekend will see large-flowered trillium peaking and will attract large numbers of mosquitoes. DEET is highly recommended.
Photo by Kirk Nelson
The Laurentian divide is the continental divide separating the area where water flows north to the Hudson Bay or the Arctic Ocean from the area where water flows south to the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico. It stretches from northern Newfoundland south and then west to the Great Divide at Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park in Montana. In Minnesota it stretches from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Cook County to Browns Valley in Traverse County.
The Laurentian Divide Recreation Area, in the Superior National Forest near Virginia, Minnesota, has 15 miles of hiking and skiing trails and 5 miles of mountain bike trails.
Wambach Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 1,288-acre reserve in northwestern Minnesota. It consists of two units separated by Santee Prairie SNA. The large 1,209-acre West Unit is a mosaic of mesic prairie, shallow lakes, ponds, large areas of cattail marsh, and various wetlands. The 79-acre East Unit is mostly mesic prairie with some wet prairie and wetlands.
Deer, small game, forest game birds, pheasants, and waterfowl can be hunted here. Small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum), a species of special concern, is found here. A survey in 1994 found 12 Powesheik skipperling (Oarisma powesheik), a federally endangered butterfly, on this site. This small butterfly has not been seen in the last 10 years in Minnesota.
The City of Elk River describes Woodland Trails Park as “crown jewel of the Elk River Park system”. That may make it sound like a big fish in a little pond, but that phrase would not do it justice. This 371-acre park has two native plant communities, about 10 miles of hiking trails, and a biathlon range. The trails are wide and well marked, including distance markers every kilometer.
Woodland Trails Park preserves an area of low hills and swales formed by the advance of the Wisconsin glaciation about 12,000 years ago. Today, the area is mostly covered in a oak-maple woodland. A small black ash swamp occupies a low area to the west.
Visitors this weekend (4/24/2016) will find rue anemone peaking throughout the park.