|Red Rock Prairie / Jeffers Petroglyphs / Red Rock Dells|
Many remaining prairies occur in places that escaped the plow because they were too steep or rocky. That's the case at Red Rock Prairie, where outcrops of Sioux quartzite prevented the land from being tilled. The preserve has undergone a total transformation since 1998, with the removal of an old...
Fort Ridgely State Park
|Description: Fort Ridgely State Park is situated on high bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River Valley. The park, which was established in 1911, is named after the military post that occupied the site in the 1850s and 1860s. The old fort grounds became and remain within the park as a historic district.
This site is divided by an abrupt change in topography. Fort Ridgley Creek runs through the rugged and heavily wooded lower area. The upper area, near the site of the fort, is quite flat.
The formation of this topography goes back to the ice ages. The last glaciers to cover this part of Minnesota retreated 12,000 years ago. They left behind almost 200 feet of sand, gravel, and rocks, called glacial till, on top of a layer of kaolin clay sediments and bedrock. Deposits of this clay are exposed in banks along Fort Ridgely Creek in the northern part of the park.
For more than 130 years, logging, farming, grazing and development affected the land that is now the park. The open bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River have been the least disturbed of any area in the park and contain the best displays of prairie wildflowers and grasses. At this site there are a variety of meadows, each distinct in character—some have scattered prairie wildflowers and grasses; others are dense stands of non-native plant species.
On the bluffs, and by some of the meadows, are large bur oak trees. At one time, these oaks grew out in the open surrounded only by prairie grasses. These areas, known as oak savanna, gradually disappeared as the prairie was plowed and its fires suppressed. In the park's deep ravines and along the creek, you’ll find large ash, basswood, sugar maple, hackberry and black cherry trees.
Wildlife to Watch: The Minnesota River Valley is a natural migration corridor for birds and the wooded bluffs attract a wide variety of species. The park lies on the wooded north bluff of the river, an excellent spot for watching migrating hawks and eagles. Red-shouldered hawks are found in the woodland areas during summer. It’s not unusual to see a soaring red-tailed hawk or an American kestrel hovering over the park.
Nearly 160 species have been recorded, including 24 species of warbler, along with numerous vireos, flycatchers, thrushes and sparrows. Yellow, common yellowthroat and American redstarts are easiest to find, but many others are often seen during spring migration. Blue-gray gnatcatchers are possible to spot in the woods. Restored prairie and old fields provide habitat for grassland birds such as bobolinks and grasshopper sparrows. Watch for a strutting wild turkey, but more likely, a ring-necked pheasant slipping through the high grass. Listen for the soft cooing of mourning doves. Chimney swifts are common residents, as are five species of swallows—tree, bank, cliff, barn and northern rough-winged! Enjoy wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese on and near the creek and search for great blue herons and belted kingfishers as well. The park is one of the highlights of the Minnesota River Valley Birding Trail.
White-tailed deer are plentiful and may be seen in the woods, open fields and along roadways. Both red and gray foxes inhabit this part of Minnesota, so look for them as well. Watch for reptiles and curious raccoons on the trails and mink and beavers near the water.
Special Tips: Tour historic Fort Ridgely and wander through the ruins of this once thriving outpost. Learn about the U. S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862, a major event in Minnesota's early history. Stop by the cemetery to learn more about the history. The Civilian Conservation Rustic Style buildings within the state park, built between 1934 and 1936, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park contains 27 CCC/Rustic Style historic resources within a 220-acre historic district whose boundaries define the original park.
In addition to other places within the park, there is a handicapped-accessible farmhouse that can accommodate lodging for up to six people. The park's amphitheater is accessible to people of all abilities.
Other Activities: FairRidge Trail: A paved recreational trail connects the town of Fairfax to the park. This trail provides approximately 7.3 miles for your enjoyment.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 1040 acres
Closest Town: Fairfax
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: