|Minnesota Valley NWR / Black Dog Preserve SNA / IBA|
One of the few urban national wildlife refuges in the country is located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a green belt of large marsh areas bordered by office buildings, highways, residential areas and grain terminals. The refuge is ...
Wood Lake Nature Center
|Description: The idea of “a marsh in the midst of the city” truly intrigues potential visitors to the spot locals simply call Wood Lake. Adjacent to one of the Twin Cities’ major freeways, it is a 160-acre oasis for wildlife. It’s not only people, but more than 200 bird species and 30 mammal species that are attracted to this site.
Wood Lake was once a recreational lake, surrounded by homes, but much of its water drained in the 1950s. Today, the shallow wetland is surrounded by floodplain forest dominated by silver maple, cottonwood and box elder.
Three miles of trails and boardwalks wind through Wood Lake's different habitats, including cattail marsh, mixed lowland forest and restored prairie. A floating boardwalk crosses the marsh, so you can get an excellent view of the wetland wildlife. Two docks give great close-up wildlife viewing opportunities in inclement weather.
This site is a stop on the Audubon Great River Birding Trail, deeming Wood Lake one of the best birding spots in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
It was with vision the acreage was set aside. Wood Lake serves as a source of respite and relaxation for people living in and visiting the city. Easily accessible whether you have an hour for a quick look or several for a leisurely stroll.
Wildlife to Watch: Though a popular destination in spring and fall for migrating warblers, vireos, flycatchers and sparrows, it is also good for waterfowl too. Look for wood ducks, hooded mergansers, ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal and quacking mallards on the open water. Diving pied-billed grebes may make an appearance. Watch for Canada geese and their goslings while walking on the trails—a hiss from a parent means you’re too close. Red-winged blackbirds sway on the sea of cattails, keeping watch and gathering insects for their young hidden in the vegetation. Great blue and green herons stalk for prey along the shallows.
Great horned owls have nested within yards of the nature center and seemed unaffected by human traffic viewing and photographing them from below. Barred owls nest in the woods too. Listen for the melodic song of Baltimore orioles. Watch for beautiful eastern bluebirds and swooping swallows.
You can frequently spot foxes, white-tailed deer, raccoons, woodchuck sand squirrels and other small mammals from the trails. On sunny days, don’t be surprised to see a pile of painted turtles basking on vegetation where water and vegetation meet. Take time to walk the less-traveled Prairie Trail and south Perimeter Trail where you’ll see birds that like the open, as well as butterflies bouncing and insects inhabiting the pretty prairie plants.
Special Tips: Wildlife has become accustom to the noise of urban living and airplanes overhead; so while distracting at times for humans, don’t let it stop you from visiting this gem. A tally of bird sightings for the past 20 years is displayed in the visitor center. Check with staff before heading out on the trails to find out what birds and wildlife are being seen. Trails open 5 a.m.-11 p.m. No pets or bikes.
Other Activities: The nature center offers many programs about wildlife watching throughout the year—some in the outdoor amphitheater.
Ownership: City of Richfield
Size: 160 acres
Closest Town: Richfield
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: