|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 ...
Crosby Farm / Hidden Falls Regional Parks
|Description: Crosby Farm and Hidden Falls Regional Parks parallel the east bank of the mighty Mississippi River for five miles in southwest St. Paul. The river here retains much of its natural essence, so as you walk along its banks you might forget you’re in a major metropolitan area.
Crosby Park is named after Thomas Crosby, an English immigrant who in 1858 staked out 160 acres in the valley southwest of the present-day junction of Shepard Road and Interstate 35E. Before Crosby's death in 1886, the farm became one of the largest and longest running in the West End and Highland Park areas of the city. A succession of families farmed it between 1902 and 1962. The Saint Paul Port Authority purchased the land in the early 1960s and leased it to the city for park use.
Hidden Falls Park begins several miles north of the Mississippi’s confluence with the
Minnesota River and continues south to Crosby Farm Park. The steep, wooded bluffs of oak and rock outcroppings provide a sharp contrast to the floodplain forest along the river.
This park dates back to 1887, when Horace Cleveland, a nationally-known landscape architect and park planner, selected it as one of four major park sites for the city of St. Paul. Except for the use of a portion of the land as a tree nursery, no improvement was made in Hidden Falls Park until 1936-37, when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) carried out an extensive improvement program on the site. Featured in the park was a small spring-fed waterfall from which the park got its name.
In the mid-1960s the site took much of its present form as work began on the park's four primary use areas: primitive, boat launching, general picnic and scenic falls.
The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers is one of the most powerfully significant places in the Twin Cities. For some, it was their place of origin, their Garden of Eden. To the Mdewakanton Dakota it has deep historic and spiritual meaning. They called the joining of the two rivers Bdote Minisota. To European explorers, entrepreneurs, soldiers and settlers, it became a center of trade and military authority.
Established in 1988, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area includes 72 miles in Minnesota stretching from the cities of Dayton and Ramsey in the north to just south of Hastings. Crosby Farm and Hidden Falls Regional Parks are located within this federally-designated riverway, as well as being sites along the National Audubon Great River Birding Trail. The two parks are also included in the “Birding Ramsey County” book and website.
Wildlife to Watch: Crosby Park connects with Hidden Falls Park where the Minnesota River meets the Mississippi, making this a bird superhighway during spring and fall migration and a popular destination for wildlife watchers. Listen and look for songbirds like eastern phoebes, red-eyed vireos, robins, and wood thrushes, as well as yellow, chestnut-sided, mourning, Nashville and Tennessee warblers. There are even records of nesting prothonotary warblers in the parks.
Both yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, chimney swifts, catbirds and chipping sparrows may be seen or heard, along with colorful cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles. Look for tree, bank, cliff and northern rough-winged swallows on the wing and the sounds of red-bellied, downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers tapping in the woods.
Watch for bald eagles perched in the trees along the river, broad-winged and red-tailed hawks soaring overhead and turkey vultures floating on thermals. Other birds you might see in or near the water include great blue and green herons, black-crowned night-herons, great egrets double-crested cormorants and belted kingfishers. Watch for waterfowl and for lightning fast peregrine falcons that may snatch one of those ducks for a meal.
Toward evening listen for the hoots of great horned or barred owls. Check the sky for common nighthawks catching insects on the wing as darkness descends.
You might see a white-tailed deer taking a drink, a raccoon or an opossum wandering through the woods or a fox trotting along. Gray and red squirrels scamper among the oaks and are easy to spot. Watch for chipmunks running, woodchucks waddling or cottontail rabbits hopping in the parkland. Beaver and river otters ply the water. If you visit at dusk, don’t be surprised to see bats swooping through the air. Five species of bats—hoary, red, big brown, little brown and eastern pipistrelle—inhabit these sites.
You could run across a gentle garter snake in the grass or crossing a trail too. Look for painted turtles basking on sun-drenched logs or smooth and spiny softshells in the river water. Listen for the vocalizations, calls and choruses of the American toad, Cope’s gray treefrog, and green and northern leopard frogs in the evenings of late spring and into summer.
Special Tips: During high flooding in spring, these parks may be closed. In addition to the trail that follows the east bank of the Mississippi, there is also a paved biking and hiking trail along the bluff, providing especially good birding opportunities during migration. This is a good spot for wildlife watchers with small children, as most of the trails are stroller accessible.
Land Manager Contact:
City of St. Paul
Division of Parks & Recreation
300 City Hall Annex
25 W 4th Street
St. Paul MN 55102
Other Activities: A floating boardwalk goes between Lake Crosby and a small lake with a fishing pier.
Hunting is allowed in Crosby only - sometimes select archery deer hunt in fall; park is closed during the hunt.
Ownership: City of St. Paul
Size: Crosby Farm Regional Park - 540 acres; Hidden Falls Regional Park - 34 acres
Closest Town: St. Paul
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: