The Anoka Sand Plain is a unique and vulnerable ecological region located in east-central Minnesota, bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, on the north and east by forested regions, and on the south by the Twin Cities metro area. It is characterized by thousands of shallow wetlands, miles of rivers and streams, and acres of oak savanna and woodlands. Like a giant sponge filled with billions of gallons of water, it serves as a critical filter for the aquifer that provides the Twin Cities and east-central Minnesota with most of its drinking water. It is also a rich collection of natural resources, including two state Wild and Scenic Rivers and numerous wildlife management areas.
Although highly modified by humans over the past 200 years, the Anoka Sand Plain still serves as a critical filter for the aquifer that provides the Twin Cities and east-central Minnesota with most of its drinking water. The region’s high water table and porous soils make this area highly vulnerable to water contamination from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, pollutants and other toxic materials.
Home to more than two million humans…
More than two million people depend on the Anoka Sand Plain for living and working space, recreation and water. And given the sand plain’s close proximity to the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the region’s attractiveness for homes and recreation is only growing. Representing two percent of the land area of Minnesota, the sand plain occupies more than one million acres and encompasses wholly or partly 13 Minnesota counties and nearly 70 cities. In less than two hundred years much of the wild character of the sand plain has disappeared. However, there are still some natural areas left that possess many of the native plants and animals that were here 200 years ago, including numerous state Scientific and Natural Areas, state Wildlife Management Areas, county parks and two National Wildlife Refuges. Two state-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers—the Rum and the Mississippi—also flow through the sand plain.
…and to an amazingly diverse collection of plants and animals.
Scattered across the Anoka Sand Plain region is a complex mosaic of plant communities. Floodplain forests grow along the rivers; marshes, sedge meadows, fen and forested swamps occupy wetland basins; and oak savannas, prairies and oak woodlands flourish
Among the most unique natural communities are the prairie remnants and oak savanna relicts. A savanna resembles a prairie of grasses and flowers with scattered craggy oaks that are easy to walk through. Once a common feature of the sand plain, oak savanna has been reduced to less than 3,800 acres and is a globally imperiled plant community.
The landscape’s rich collection of native plant communities evolved with fire. Controlled burning still plays a critical role in maintaining the biological integrity of the sand plain by improving habitat for wildlife and reducing wildfire fuels in choked woodlots.
Oaks are uniquely fire resistant, especially bur oaks—the signature tree species of the region—because of their thick and corky bark. Some currently living examples of these oaks were young trees when Thomas Jefferson was president.
98 state-listed rare plants and animals make their homes in the Anoka Sand Plain, the majority living in oak savannas, prairies and wetlands. Examples include Blanding’s turtle, the plains hognose snake, the plains pocket mouse, Wilson’s phalarope, the lance-leaved violet, beach heather and tubercled rein orchid.