|Chester Woods County Park|
Chester Woods is a haven for wildlife and wildlife watchers. The reservoir forms a many-fingered lake which beckons to be explored by canoe. Wood ducks and hooded mergansers feed on the lake; watch for them as you paddle. Listen for the gung-gung of green frogs calling from the water's edge. <br>...
Rice Lake State Park
|Description: Rice Lake State Park is a wildlife oasis in the middle of farm country, but it wasn’t always so. The shallow lake is an ice block “lake on a hill” between the Cannon and Zumbro River watersheds. It’s the headwater source for the south branch of the middle fork of the Zumbro River. |
In previous geologic eras, a shallow sea covered most of North America, including southwestern Minnesota. On its bed, layers of sediment turned to rock, hundreds of feet thick. The bedrock of this area is identical to that found to the east in Minnesota's blufflands. During this period of time, ice advanced across Minnesota four times. The surface and land forms found in the park were formed during the Kansan Ice Age. Rice Lake itself was formed by a depression in a huge pile of Kansas drift.
Rice Lake State Park was originally located in a vast oak savanna, known as Minnesota's southern oak barrens, that covered about seven percent of the state extending from the Twin Cities on the north to the Iowa border and beyond. It formed a broad transition zone between the prairies to the west and the deciduous forests to the east. Originally, the dominant vegetation was prairie with occasional groves and scattered individual burr oak trees. Today, remnants of the oaks still remain at the park, and prairie vegetation has reappeared through restoration efforts.
Long ago, American Indians harvested wild rice from this lake. Later, the lake was first dammed to provide energy for the water-powered mill located farther to the east at the tiny town of Wasioja. Occasionally, Rice Lake became depleted, requiring the mill to shut down.
North of the park boundaries, a stagecoach route followed the "Ridge Road" in the mid-1800s. There was a promising young village of Rice Lake on this road, but the railroads came, and changed the town's future as newer towns, with more promise, sprang up. The only sign remaining of this village today is the Rice Lake Church, built in 1857, located on the northern boundary of the park.
Wildlife to Watch: During spring and fall, the lake surface shimmers with the movement of tundra swans and Canada geese. Flocks of diving and surface-feeding ducks visit the lake during migration. Pied-billed grebe, wood duck, lesser scaup, as well as blue-winged and green-winged teal are common.
Look also for spotted sandpipers, marsh wrens, rails and great blue herons near the marshland. On a summer day, you might see nesting western grebes. Black terns have nested at the park, but are not easy to find. There is nice canoeing at the park for “birding from boat”.
Follow the woodland trail and watch for exquisite indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Seven species of woodpeckers, including the northern flicker and crested, crow-sized pileated, live here—listen for their distinctive calls and tapping and signs of excavations in snags. You might readily spot common residents such as the least and great crested flycatchers, red-eyed vireo, golden and ruby crowned kinglets and brown thrashers. Listen for the songs of Nashville, Tennessee, yellow-rumped warblers and common yellowthroats.
Look for muskrats feeding on aquatic plants and maneuvering through the water. Evenings are delightful with the calls and sounds of western chorus, gray tree and northern leopard frogs. Spotting snapping turtles on occasion is possible, but it’s easier to find painted turtles basking on warm summer days.
Be on the lookout for foxes and coyotes trotting through the area. Watch for white-tailed deer, which are common and sometimes dart across the roadways. Smaller, but still interesting and entertaining, are the scampering fox squirrels.
Special Tips: Visit the waterfowl observation site in the picnic area for a view of the lake. Try hiking or skiing the trails to see its resident and migratory wildlife. Wildflowers are also abundant in the spring. Rice Lake Church can be seen today along Dodge County Road 20.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 1071 acres
Closest Town: Claremont/Owatonna
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: