Sunday, January 3, 2016

Trail circles reseeded prairie at Minnesota nature preserve

Kettlekamp Prairie and the observation tower overlooking it.
Photo courtesy of Belwin Conservancy.

New tower
stands over
grassland


An observation tower overlooking a restored prairie awaits day hikers on the Kettlekamp Prairie Trail at Minnesota’s Belwin Conservancy.

Though privately owned, the nature preserve just east of Minneapolis-St. Paul is open to the public. The Kettlekamp trail runs about 0.75 miles in the conservancy's northwest corner.

Restored lands
To reach the trail, from Interstate 94, head south on Minn. Hwy. 21/Stagecoach Trail (Note that if coming from the east, you’ll want to exit onto the wayside and then take a short connector road from its west side to Hwy. 21.). After passing Indian Trail South, turn left/east onto the conservancy’s entry road. At the park’s headquarters, go left/north; park where the road ends at the nature center.

The trailhead is at the observation tower near the center’s front. Go right/south onto the trail, which along with red pines rings the Kettlekamp Prairie.

The opening section for the trail descends somewhat but is wide and easily to follow. As it’s an open area, you’ll definitely need either sunhat or sunscreen.

Kettlekamp is the largest of several open spaces being restored as prairie at Belwin. Well over 150 acres of prairie has been reseeded there.

Seed scavenging
At around $1000 per acre to replant prairies with a healthy seed mix, Belwin uses a couple of combines to harvest its own land to keep costs down. Seeds from two major native prairie grasses – Indian grass and big bluestem – as well as a number of flower species can’t be obtained that way, however.

To overcome that problem, Belwin volunteers engage in the ancient practice of seed scavenging – or harvesting the seeds by hand.

During September and October, Belwin hosts a few seed collection events in which Indian grass and big bluestem seeds are picked at the Stagecoach Prairie Natural area. Through the winter, the seeds dry on tarps, then in spring are run through a hammermill so they can be broken into chaff and planted.

As the loop nears its end, you’ll have to ascend back toward the tower. Once you’ve arrived there, take a walk to the tower’s top, which offers a great view of the St. Croix River and far Wisconsin shore to the southeast.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.