|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...
Sand Prairie Wildlife Management & Environmental Education Area
|Description: Around 80 years ago this extensive prairie-wetland complex—once a channel of the Mississippi River—was drained for cropland. In more recent years, native prairie plants recolonized its abandoned fields. Today, with hard work and dedication, more than 600 acres at this site offer a diverse landscape with two major wetland restorations and a tract of restored prairie, plus native prairie brushlands and woods.
The flat terrain makes it an easy three-quarter mile walk to the observation deck. Along the way, and depending on when you visit, enjoy the sights and scents of blazing star, prairie clover, prairie smoke, lead plant, wild bergamot, harebell, goldenrod, golden Alexander, downy phlox, mountain mint and wood lily. Prairie grasses, like big bluestem and Indian grass, wave in the wind.
This unique and special site, so close to a bustling and burgeoning city, is managed for wildlife, environmental education and field research. Sand Prairie is the first WMA also designated as an Environmental Education Area. Numerous local school and college students and teachers routinely visit and study the Sand Prairie ecosystem. It provides a place of respite for birds, wildlife and humans alike.
Wildlife to Watch: Bring binoculars to take in everything from warblers to woodpeckers to waterfowl. May is a great time to watch for warblers, such as the yellow, black-and-white, palm, yellow-rumped, and common yellowthroat, flitting about in the willows.
The observation deck allows you to be elevated above the wetlands to search for lesser yellowlegs, belted kingfishers, great egrets, green herons and black terns. Listen for secretive marsh birds, such as soras, calling in late spring. Species not often seen during the day, American woodcocks and common snipes, have been recorded at this location too.
Pied-billed grebes, as well as mallards, wood ducks, blue-winged teal, lesser scaup, American wigeons, northern shovelers and Canada geese all use the wetland at some time of the year for nesting, feeding or resting during migration.
Ruffed grouse, pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, brown thrashers, eastern kingbirds, mourning doves, bobolink, marsh wrens and ruby-throated hummingbirds may also be seen. Listen for the loud, unmistakable trill of the tall, leggy sandhill cranes—a bird once seldom, but now often heard, in the region. Red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks scan the site for prey.
Listen for chorus frogs towards evening, and keep an eye out for beavers and muskrats. Although less common, it’s possible to spot prairie skinks, western hognose snakes and Blanding’s turtles. Watch for white-tailed deer, foxes and opossums, for birds, butterflies and insects too, as you stroll the mowed prairie trails and across the boardwalks.
Special Tips: Unlike most WMAs, Sand Prairie WMA is closed to hunting and trapping to encourage year-around environmental education use. Please respect adjoining property boundaries and ask for permission before going on private lands. Consider picking up any litter you come across. Maps are usually available at the parking lot.
Other Activities: Fabulous prairie plants bloom in the late summer and fall. So, be sure to visit before the first hard frost, which quiets down the riot of color.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 650 acres
Closest Town: St. Cloud
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: