|Lake Maria State Park|
Lake Maria State Park was designed for hikers, backpackers and horseback riders looking for a wilderness experience. Three major landscapes are found within the park: wetland, remnant prairie and the oak-maple forest known as the "Big Woods". Here the northern hardwood forest meets the southern p...
|Description: A thick mist floats up from the river on a frost-laden winter morning as ghostly white birds bump softly into one another on the rippling water. Rising up, the birds ruffle their wings; stretch their long graceful necks. The day is dawning as hundreds of elegant trumpeter swans begin to forage on the Mississippi River at Monticello.
This mystical scene would not have existed just a few decades ago—not in Minnesota, not anywhere in the Lower 48, except at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. The return of trumpeter swans is a modern-day success story. These majestic birds were once hunted for their skins, feathers and meat and by the early 1920s, were in serious trouble and close to vanishing.
Laws were passed to protect the birds and numerous recovery projects across the heartland have brought the trumpeter swan back from the brink of extinction. Hennepin Park Preserve District, now known as Three Rivers Park District, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program launched the reintroduction effort in the state from 1969 to 1990. From a small countable number of translocated trumpeters and eggs, the population grew to the present estimate of over 3000 birds.
Today, the swans enjoy the open water located at this site due to the nuclear power plant upriver that provides a constant supply of warm water to this part of the Mississippi. This stretch of the river is typically shallow enough during the winter to provide an area easily accessible to the swans where they can eat, wade, and loaf in the open waters without having to deal with a fast river current.
Years ago, Sheila Lawrence, a Monticello resident living on Mississippi Drive, was enamored by the handful of beautiful swans she watched from her window. Initially, Sheila started throwing kernels of corn on the riverbank to supplement the birds’ food supply. In time, the ‘Swan Lady,’ as she has been affectionately called, increased her pantry to include tons of shelled corn that she dispenses throughout the winter season.
While the living is easy on the river in winter, as spring commences, the trumpeters take wing and migrate to their northern nesting territories including Ontario and Manitoba. They’ll nest, hatch eggs and hopefully, raise another generation of cygnets. As autumnal winds turn blustery and cold, swan families will return to this site to spend the winter and some swans migrate further south to sites like Missouri and Arkansas.
In the past, trumpeter swans were a sight few people saw in a lifetime. Swan Park is the best place in Minnesota—and probably in all of North America, for photographers, bird enthusiasts and visitors to enjoy the swan’s natural beauty from this city park as the swans rest and feed on the banks of the Mississippi River at Monticello.
Wildlife to Watch: In addition to the trumpeters, there are mallards and Canada geese that also congregate along the shore and on the river. Other waterfowl species may also be spotted flying along the river including common goldeneyes. Look for woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals, chickadees, and other winter birds flitting about in the trees along the bank. Bald eagles may be seen perching or flying down the river in search of a meal of fish or even a duck. Minks and coyotes can sometimes be seen hunting along the river bank.
TRIVIA: The mother of a swan (female) is called a pen, the father of a swan (male) is called a cob. Young swans, which are grayish in their first winter, are called cygnets.
Special Tips: Bring binoculars for close-up views of the swans and other waterfowl.
This park is located in a residential neighborhood. Please do not trespass in anyone's yard. You may view the swans by walking down a small asphalt pathway to the viewing deck overlooking the riverbank. Mississippi Drive ends in a cul-de-sac, so please utilize it to turn around.
These swans provide a great viewing opportunity for visitors in the Swan Park, often flying by at eye level and feeding in the river below the split rail fence that encloses the Park viewing site. Swans recognize the park as a place where strangers are present, but tend to ignore the presence of humans and therefore offering great photography and viewing opportunities. You can enhance your experience if you bring binoculars and/or a spotting scope and tripod and camera with a telephoto lens.
These swans are easily spooked if someone leaves the confines of the deck to venture on neighborhood properties or down to the riverbank below the park for viewing or photography. The woman who feeds the swans is the only 'safe' person the swans recognize and tolerate. THANK YOU for observing the privacy of these beautiful birds, as well as the neighborhood that has allowed this viewing platform and park to exist. The neighbor to the east (right) of the Swan Park will allow photographers to take photos from his private deck down at the water’s edge for a fee. You must contact him and pay him first or you will be trespassing. The fees he collects are used to help pay for the food for the swans. A donation box is present in the Swan Park where funds can be left to help cover the cost of the corn that is provided to feed the swans.
You may also get back into your vehicle and head east on County Road 39 East/Riverview Drive to see swans farther downriver.
Swans are absent from this area from April through mid-November.
Swan viewing opportunities peak between mid-November through March. Highest numbers occur mainly from early December through January. The best viewing of large numbers of swans at this site occurs when the temperatures are really cold. The best viewing times occur when the swans are feeding from about 10:00 a.m. to1:00 p.m.
Other Activities: A larger than life stainless steel swan sculpture adorns the lawn at the Monticello Community Center located at 505 Walnut Street. Monticello artist, Parker McDonald, created this commissioned piece of artwork in honor of the trumpeter swans.
Ownership: City of Monticello
Size: < 1 acre
Closest Town: Monticello
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: