Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hike heads through restored prairie area

The Sliding Hill Trail crosses a small meadow.
Sliding Hill Trail, courtesy Minnesota DNR.
Day hikers can enjoy a walk through a meadow to a hilltop with a view on the Sliding Hill Trail at Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park.

Running 0.6-miles round trip, the Sliding Hill Trail (not its official name but used here for convenience’s sake) is an easy walk near the park’s entry. While most come to the state park for the views of Lake Pepin, this trail offers glimpses of what lies just a few miles west of the hilly Mississippi River Valley, where a flat prairie stretches to South Dakota.

To reach the trailhead, from U.S. Hwy 61 turn northeast in Frontenac Station onto County Road 2. Immediately after the Hill Avenue intersection, turn left/northwest and enter the park. Find a space in the parking lot at the park office. The trail leaves from the lot’s northern corner.

A swath of mowed grass, the trail crosses a small meadow. Prairie grasses and wildflowers flourish here, and under a big blue sky gives you a fleeting feel of what walking on the Great Plains is like.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the state park began a concerted effort to restore its prairie areas. The aim is for the park to appear as it did prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1800s.

The restored prairie area is home to a number of birds. A major stopover each spring and autumn for migrating birds on the Mississippi Flyway, quite a number of them can be spotted in the meadow. Among them are bobolinks, eastern bluebirds, eastern kingbirds, eastern meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, Henslow’s sparrows, and sedge wrens.

At 0.2 miles from the trailhead, the path reaches a junction. Go left/northwest, climbing a small hill that over 0.1 miles rises about 60 feet above the meadow.

In winter, this portion of the trail becomes a locally popular sliding hill. During any time of the year, though, the hilltop offers great views of the meadow below and park office in the distance.

The hilltop trees attract different kinds of birds than on the meadow below. More than 20 species of woodland-loving warblers have been spotted in the park, which has the garnered the nickname “The Warbler Capital.”

After taking in the sights, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

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