New trail winds through prairie restored by volunteers

A ribbon cutting celebration this month officially opens a trail in Maplewood’s Fish Creek Natural Area that winds through woodlands and prairie, leading to scenic views from the bluff. The hike is beautiful throughout, and much that is due to Great River Greening volunteers.

Since 2012, more than 700 volunteers have pulled buckthorn and planted wildflowers to restore the 70-acre site. The  parcel is adjacent to Ramsey County’s 142-acre Fish Creek Open Space and connects trails from St. Paul to Woodbury. Up until 2011, it was slated for housing development. But a growing concern for the loss of natural areas in Maplewood prompted the City to acquire it, and partner with Great River Greening to restore it.

Through public events, and several corporate-sponsored events with 3M, Thomson Reuters, and others, volunteers have worked alongside us to transform the land from low-diversity habitat and woodland choked by buckthorn, to prairie, rich with wildflowers and grasses, and a healthier forest.

The first to work on the site were St. Thomas University students in the Carbon Neutral Program. They closed a gap in the forest with white oak trees from both local and more southern regions, to study the ecotypes’ growth and survival.

Pollinator research has also been conducted by Citizen Science groups, led by the Maplewood Nature Center and Xerces Society.

Fish Creek Natural Area is a “passive park”, perfect for birdwatching, hiking, and cross country skiing.  Located in the southeast corner of the County, it is one of the last wild places in the Mississippi wildlife migration corridor, and an international flyway.

Fish Creek, itself, is a little tough to find. It makes its way from Carver Lake in Woodbury, through meadows and forests in Maplewood, to St. Paul where it carves a narrow channel through bedrock (known locally as the Fish Creek Canyon). Eventually the creek drops below Point Douglas Road and empties into the Mississippi River. Plans are in place for rustic trails to connect all these spaces.

Fish Creek Natural Area partners are Great River Greening, Xerces Society, Ramsey County, and Friends of Maplewood Nature, with support from Outdoor Heritage Fund and MN Environmental Fund