Prairie Overlook

From the 1950s through the late 1980s, this area was used as a pasture for cattle and sheep involved in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Animal Science research and outreach programs. The pasture was abandoned in the 1990s as it was no longer needed for those programs. It has remained unused since that time.

prairieIn 2015, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to convert the pasture into a publicly available educational and research prairie setting. It is located just southwest of the parking lot at the Lone Rock Trailhead, a trailhead used only by horseback riders and hikers. Lone Rock Trailhead is officially located in the Vermillion Highlands. This is a large section of land managed both by the Minnesota DNR and CFANS. The Prairie Overlook’s concrete observation pad with granite benches was installed in May. The concrete pad also includes a stamped compass design.

The primary goal for this prairie restoration was to significantly enhance the presence of flowering plants that would attract and provide improved habitat for insect pollinators (e.g., bees and butterflies) and a food source for many of our prairie bird species. This restoration project was consistent with current CFANS research and educational goals related to bee and pollinator habitat improvement and restoration. To accomplish this, a specially formulated seed mix was put together that includes significantly more prairie forbs (i.e., non-grassy flowering plants). Site preparation for seeding was initiated in early spring 2015. Seeding was completed in June 2015. 

In addition to the species included in the prairie seed mix, over 70 other plant species were grown at the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center (RROC). Many of these were specifically included for their pollinator-attracting qualities and planted in areas best suited to their growing needs. The area immediately around this Prairie Overlook was specifically targeted to draw an array of pollinator species closer to visitors for easier observation.

When you visit the Prairie Overlook, you may want to bring a plant guide to some of the more common prairie plants. While some of these are featured on the interpretative signs, many other species are not.  If your interest is in observing birds and/or insects, the Prairie Overlook is a great place to start.

Another significant feature of the Prairie Overlook is the Pollinator Gardens just to the east and west of the Prairie Overlook. These Pollinator Gardens were intentionally planted to showcase five different planting designs using a diversity of mostly native pollinator-friendly plants. In fact, visitors may even be inspired to adopt a specific planting plan and species of plants to create a pollinator friendly garden in their own back yards.

The views from the Prairie Overlook are exceptional. The prairie itself is very interesting with its diversity of plants, insects and birds that call the prairie home.  Because the prairie flowers and insect species are ever-changing, there is always something unique and interesting to be seen.

In addition to the Prairie Overlook area, one can easily walk or ride down Lone Rock Trail to the west to Compass Corner. This is an area specifically planted to the large, mid- to late-summer flowering compass plant. There is an interpretive sign there explaining how compass plant got its name and marks a distinctive change in direction of Lone Rock Trail from heading west to south. In addition, visitors can also take the short Prairie Walk from Lone Rock Trail to the entrance of Dakota County’s new Whitetail Woods Regional Park. Along the Prairie Walk, four different interpretive signs describe the walk in general along with three other stations where one can learn about the common and not-so-common birds, flowers and insects that inhabit our prairies.  

These are a great opportunity to learn a little about what you can see and experience as you continue walking or riding the rest of Lone Rock Trail or simply enjoy the Prairie Overlook or Prairie Walk. We hope you enjoy your visit.  Perhaps it will encourage you to plant some of these plant species in your own gardens and landscapes. Many of them are available for purchase at local garden centers and nurseries.  Your local pollinators and birds will thank you.