|Talcot Lake WMA|
The WMA includes Talcot Lake and its marshes, bottomlands along the west branch of the Des Moines River, and adjacent grassland and cropland. Historically, this unit has been important for migrating waterfowl.
Lake Shetek State Park
|Description: Prior to recorded history, expansive and unspoiled, this treeless prairie landscape of waving wildflowers and tall grasses stretched for miles around the hidden jewel of a lake called Shetek. For hundreds of years Native Americans pursued bison roaming the flatlands and undoubtedly camped by the quiet shores.
The bucolic scene started to change in the mid-1830s, when adventurers such as Catlin, Nicollet, Prescot and Fremont explored the area. In 1856 the first white settlers arrived. Although the population varied, the settlement probably numbered no more than 40 people at any one time. The farmsteads were scattered from Lake Fremont to Beauty Lake along the eastern side of Lake Shetek.
Most of those who came between 1856-1862 did so because of Governor Ramsey's lenient land regulations. Settlers were permitted to lay claim after seven year's occupation if they cleared sufficient land for a farm. The continual encroachment upon tribal territories led to discord among the first inhabitants. In 1862, the U.S.-Dakota Conflict took place in the Lake Shetek vicinity, where both settlers and Dakota Indians perished.
In time, settlers returned to the region to farm. During the next century and a half, 99 percent of Minnesota’s native prairie was tilled and transformed into cropland.
Today, a large portion of the 1108-acre Lake Shetek State Park contains numerous old fields and woodlots, which are remnants of pioneer farms. Then and still, these planted woods of oak, hackberry, basswood, elm and ash, buffer the winds sweeping across the Great Plains.
In an effort to restore the natural prairie in the park, prescribed burns and invasive species control are used. Although it will take decades to even partially return the prairie to its natural state, progress is being made. Blazing star, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, vervain, sunflowers and bottle gentian are a few of the showy wildflowers that now bloom at this site.
Wildlife to Watch: Not only did the parkland once flourish with wildflowers and grasses, the habitat was conducive for such animals as bison, elk, antelope, wolves and prairie chickens. Although these species are long gone, the diverse habitats presently in the park still support much wildlife.
There are several ways to see or photograph wildlife at this site. Rent a boat, canoe or kayak to explore the waterways, ride on a bike trail or hike the trails traversing through the park. A quiet walk may yield a glimpse of a doe and her fawn, the bubbly sounds of bobolinks in the prairie or the graceful flight of a white pelican overhead. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels and raccoons have adapted all too well to the park’s recreational areas, and are frequent visitors of campers and picnickers.
Along the wooded shorelines of Lake Shetek look for fox squirrels, woodchucks, mink, beaver and muskrat. You may spot a red fox trotting along or in the evening hear the yipping call of a coyote. There are several wetlands where you might find basking turtles during the day and as dusk descends, listen to frog choruses coming from the wetlands.
The park features a combination of lakes, marsh and woodlands, providing for a wide variety of bird life. Lake Shetek is the largest lake in southwestern Minnesota. It’s also the headwaters of the Des Moines River, which serves as an important natural migratory corridor.
Shetek is an Ojibwe word, with the most widely accepted translation being “pelican”. While pelicans do not nest here, they are often spotted on the lake, particularly during spring and fall travels.
Check out the interpretive trail leading to Loon Island, a 45-acre bird sanctuary, accessible by foot via a causeway. The circular trail is excellent for migrant species in spring and fall.
The woodlands are good for spotting warblers, vireos, thrushes, cuckoos, sparrows, blue-gray gnatcatchers and indigo buntings. Wee warblers on the wing include Tennessee, Nashville, yellow, yellow-rumped, black-and-white, common yellowthroat and American redstart. Glimpses of eastern wood-pewee, eastern phoebe and great crested flycatcher should be possible in all three seasons. Look upward to spot tree, cliff, barn and northern rough-winged swallows swooping up insects.
Listen for marsh birds, including secretive sora rails, sparrows and red-winged blackbirds in the Webster and Eastlick Marsh areas. You might spot an occasional yellow-headed blackbird as well. At dusk and dawn, you may be treated to a sighting of a Wilson’s snipe. At Eastlick, there are interpretive signs and an observation deck with a spotting scope for close-up viewing of coots, grebes, ducks, herons and pelicans.
Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards and blue-winged teal nest in and around the park, so watch for their goslings and ducklings in early summer. During migration, lesser scaup of often wing their way through the area.
If you visit early in the season—often before the ice is all melted, look for small, stocky, plucky pied-billed grebes diving for a meal. On warm summer days, you might spot a double-crested cormorant perching in trees with wing outstretched. Ring-billed gulls are common and in spring and fall, are joined by Franklin’s gulls. Watch the shorelines for lesser yellowlegs and spotted sandpipers. Belted kingfisher, great egrets and great blue herons stalk the shallows for aquatic prey.
Look for kestrels and red-tailed hawks hunting and chimney swifts overhead too. In open areas, don’t be surprised to see a male ring-necked pheasant or a hen and chicks running through the grass. Bobolink, eastern kingbirds and eastern bluebirds are regularly seen in the park too. Listen for singing mourning doves, vesper sparrows and western meadowlarks.
And while you’re visiting, be sure to take time to enjoy the beautiful butterflies and interesting insects inhabiting the pastoral prairies.
Special Tips: There are six miles of paved biking trail, 7.5 handicapped accessible, 14 miles hiking, 1.5 self-guided. The scenic loop bicycle trail goes into the town of Currie.
Visit the Koch Cabin and read the monument memorializing pioneer settlers.
A handicapped-accessible camper cabin with heat and electricity is available year-round.
Due to a campground construction project, camping at the Camper Cabin and Wolf Point Campground will be closed for the 2010 season after August 1, 2010. Camping is still available at the group camp and Park Lake cart-in sites.
Best time to contact the park: Memorial Weekend through Labor Day 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.; off-season 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. as available.
Other Activities: Geocaching Wildlife Safari Demo Park, free GPS units available to use during the summer.
Rental of boats, canoes & kayaks.
Winter: three miles of ski trails, snowshoeing is permitted anywhere in the park. Trail shelters with stove are available.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 1108 acres, lake 3600 acres
Closest Town: Tracy/Slayton
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: