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Take a walk through nature these next few months

West central Minnesota abounds with natural areas that showcase the region’s lakes, prairies and examples of native plant and animal life. Listed below are some of those areas worth a visit.

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A flowering cacti in the Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area. Public lands protect significant and rare natural resources.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo
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West central Minnesota abounds with natural areas that showcase the region’s lakes, prairies and examples of native plant and animal life.

Among those worth a visit:

The 600-acre Ordway Prairie Preserve is one of the largest native prairie tracts in the state.

The glacial till prairie is made up of meadows, wetlands and woods. It is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including the rare Hill’s thistle and the Poweshiek skipper butterfly.

The prairie, acquired by the Nature Conservancy in the 1970s, is located off Minnesota Highway 104 north of Sunburg. It can be reached via a rest area on Lake Johanna Hill.

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Lund Prairie, covering 110 acres, is one of the region’s most recent additions to the Nature Conservancy. About half of this preserve is untouched native prairie. It contains more than 200 different species of native grasses and flowers.

Lund Prairie is 25 miles west of Willmar on Minnesota Highway 40.

Granite outcrops and wetlands are interspersed with prairie at the 40-acre Prairie Smoke Nature Center in Upper Sioux Agency State Park, south of Granite Falls. The area has been restored with native plants.

Regal Meadow is a 185-acre preserve exemplifying the region’s native mix of prairie, forest and wetlands. Hikers may be able to spot a rare lady-slipper, the state flower, in marshy areas of the meadow.

Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the Regal Meadow is located on 160th Street Northeast, two miles north of Hawick.

The 2,000-acre Chippewa Prairie Nature Preserve is a rich site for plant and bird diversity and is well known for grassland birds. The prairie chicken has been reintroduced here. The land has never been tilled and has hundreds of species of native natural grasses and wildflowers. An old ox-cart trail provides a two-mile trail for hikers and bird watchers.

Cooperatively owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the preserve is four miles northwest of Milan along the upper Lac qui Parle Lake.

Swedes Forest is seven miles south of Sacred Heart on Renville County Road 9 and 1½ miles west on a gravel road.

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It contains granite outcrops and the rare five-lined skink, which lives in open, sunny bedrock exposures near oak habitat.

Blue Devil Valley is on the south edge of Granite Falls. Follow Minnesota Highway 23 south for half a mile, then go west on County Road 39 a few hundred yards.

This nature area is home to one of the state’s largest known populations of the five-lined skink. Prairie plants such as the brittle cactus, little bluestem, harebell and pasque flower are found among the granite outcrops and scattered burr oak.

Gneiss outcrop is located southeast of Granite Falls. Follow U.S. Highway 212 east for one and half miles to County Road 40, then continue south one mile. Gneiss outcrops comprises the most ancient rock in the world, some 3.6 billion years old, which dominate the landscape and surround a natural lake.

These rugged outcrops are also home to some of the state’s most unique plant communities. The rare Great Plains prickly pear and brittle cactus endure the desert-like environment of the rocks. Rare plants like the Carolina foxtail, little barley and mousetail sprout in shallow depressions among the outcrops.

Bruce Hitman Heron Rookery is a short ride from Brooten to Lake Johanna. Follow Stearns County Road 8 three miles west and then go three miles south on County Road 37.

The rookery is one of the state’s largest and most diverse nesting sites for water bird colonies. Large numbers of great blue herons, great egrets, double-crested cormorants and black-crowned night herons nest here. Rare bird species — among them the little blue heron, snowy egret, yellow-crowned night heron and cattle egret — also have been spotted visiting or nesting at the site. Green-backed herons are also known to nest here.

Note: The island is closed from April 1 to July 15 to protect the nesting colonies.

Donna Middleton started working at the West Central Tribune in 1975 and has been the news assistant since 1992. She compiles the arts, health, farm and community page calendars, as well as rewrites and works on the special sections.
She can be contacted at dmiddleton@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4341.
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