Park Info

Image of Fort Ridgely State Park

Quick stats

1,044 acres
72,900 annual visits
8,224 overnight visits

Naturalist

The best way to learn more about Fort Ridgely State Park is to stop at the park office for a map and information about the park. Although the park does not have a naturalist on staff, activities are offered occasionally.

Wildlife

White-tailed deer, red and gray foxes, raccoons, minks, beavers, hawks, owls, Canada geese, wild turkeys, reptiles and many songbirds can be seen in the park.

History

In the spring of 1853, the steamboat West Newton left Fort Snelling to journey up the Minnesota River, bound for a plateau above the river in Nicollet County. The steamboat carried soldiers and their families, carpenters, and supplies. The people were assigned to build a fort at the edge of the Dakota reservation. The fort was named "Ridgely" in honor of three men of the same name who had died during the Mexican War. Fort Ridgely was complete by 1855. Before long, Fort Ridgely developed into a self-sufficient community populated by 300 soldiers and civilians. The Fort played a role in the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862 when it was attacked twice by Dakota Indians. After Fort Ridgely closed in 1872, local farmers used the buildings. The first purchase of land for the park occurred in 1896 as a war memorial to those who fought in the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. More acres were purchased in 1911 when the site was designated a state park.

Geology

The last glaciers to cover this part of Minnesota retreated 12,000 years ago. They left behind almost 200 feet of sand, gravel, and rocks, called glacial till, on top of a layer of kaolin clay sediments and bedrock. Deposits of this clay are exposed in banks along Fort Ridgely Creek in the northern part of the park. Fort Ridgely State Park sits atop two distinct layers of this glacial till.

Landscape

For over a century, the land that is now Fort Ridgely State Park has been affected by logging, farming, grazing, and development. The open bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River have been the least disturbed of any area in the park and contain the best displays of prairie wildflowers and grasses. The park includes a variety of meadows, each distinct in character. Some have scattered prairie wildflowers and grasses; others are dense stands of non-native plant species. On the park's bluffs, and by some of the meadows, are large bur oak trees. At one time, these oaks grew out in the open surrounded only by prairie grasses. These areas, known as Oak Savanna, gradually disappeared as the prairie was plowed and its fires suppressed. Large ash, basswood, sugar maple, hackberry, and black cherry trees grow in the park's deep ravines and along Fort Ridgely Creek.