by Louise Segreto
Fall is a fabulous time to switch up your foliage tradition and view the leaf colors at our often forgotten statewide Scientific and Natural Areas (“SNAs”). There are 168 SNAs scattered around the State of Minnesota and several in the Twin Cities metro area. Minnesota’s first SNAs were established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1969 to preserve and protect unique lands and waters that have natural features, plants and animals of exceptional scientific and educational value. SNAs are public lands that offer some of the best of what Minnesota has to offer in the natural world. They offer opportunities for solitude and exploration off the beaten trail.
Scientific & Natural Areas in our region. MNDNR
Ikes have always advocated for the establishment and protection of public lands, so in keeping with this tradition on National Public Land’s Day (Sept. 22nd), I decided to visit Lost Valley Prairie SNA in Hastings. I volunteered with a small group of like -minded folks collecting prairie seeds at this remarkable remnant prairie. I have driven past Hastings many times, but never knew that Lost Valley Prairie even existed. What a hidden gem! A beautiful bedrock bluff prairie featuring a series of limestone ridges and original prairie swales.
Lost Valley does have a trail (SNAs frequently don’t) but like most other SNAs there is neither drinking water, nor restrooms. There was only minimal signage along with a small kiosk with a map and some information about the unique features of the SNA.
But, everything you need to know to get started can be found at the Minnesota DNR’s website: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snas/index.html The names, locations, and short descriptions of all of Minnesota’s SNAs, along with area maps with how to access and where to park are all on-line. Consider getting involved in volunteer work and special events at an SNA. And, several SNAs are looking for a Site Steward. Site Steward applications are on-line and serving simply requires that you visit the site about once a month and submit observations 4X per year. Sounds like a dream volunteer job assignment to me. There is also a great non-profit organization, Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas, which was formed to advocate for the establishment, use, management, and perpetuation of Minnesota's SNAs in an undisturbed natural state. Many Ikes are involved in this organization- check them out and support their efforts here: www.snafriends.org
SNAs are open all year round, but parking and access roads may not be regularly maintained/plowed. Great snowshoe and cross country ski opportunities! Bring a compass or GPS and be sure to access the DNR’s website for maps before you leave home in case your cell coverage is weak at the location. Be safe and don’t forget to wear your blaze orange during hunting seasons since many SNAs allow hunting. Leave your berry and mushroom baskets home because picking/harvesting is allowed only at a few areas.
Do your part as an Ike and help support our SNAs in Minnesota!
I am headed next to Wolsfeld Woods in Long Lake, a remnant Big Woods tract that should have some beautiful autumn colors. And, then on to Savage Fen in Scott County for a change of scenery. Hoping I’ll bump into you at a SNA soon!