Park Info

Image of Whitewater State Park

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2,733 acres
255,494 annual visits
52,175 overnight visits

Naturalist

Meet the Naturalist

Sara Grover at Whitewater State Park

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A NATURALIST?

I began working as a naturalist in 1994. I have been at Whitewater State Park since 2006. I started out as a seasonal naturalist, and in 2009 I became a year-round naturalist.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A PARK NATURALIST?

As a child, I loved to be outdoors exploring, building forts, looking for rocks and camping in the backyard. When I was in high school, I began thinking about careers, and I knew I wanted to do something outdoors. The summer after I graduated from high school, I was fortunate to get an internship as a resort naturalist in the Chippewa National Forest. That experience opened my eyes to the naturalist field, and from then on I knew I wanted to pursue a naturalist career and be able to work outdoors with people!

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

I love the variety of topics and activities we get to research and develop as naturalists. With each season there are different programs we offer and a variety of behind-the-scene projects we get to work on, such as prairie seed collecting in the fall and peregrine falcon nest monitoring in the spring.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SPOT IN WHITEWATER STATE PARK?

One of my favorite places in the park is Inspiration Point, a beautiful limestone rock outcrop that overlooks the valley. It is the only overlook in the park where you cannot see any signs of civilization. When you stand on Inspiration Point on a quiet day, it's as if you've stepped back in time to witness the Whitewater Valley before European settlement.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE OUTDOOR ACTIVITY?

There are so many wonderful outdoor activities to enjoy that it is very hard to choose one favorite! My top three would have to be rock/fossil collecting, kayaking and hiking. I have two daughters and these activities are great for the whole family! I love to explore new parks, trails and public lands via kayak or by foot. I love the sense of adventure when trekking into new areas.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ANIMAL?

Another tough question! I love birds, especially owls. When I was growing up, my grandparents and my father always had bird feeders. Watching the birds in the backyard has always been a great way to stay connected to nature and to observe the changing seasons. I have always been fascinated by owls, and one of my favorite programs to lead at the park is the Moonlight Owl Prowl. It is great to take folks out into the woods at dark and watch them get excited about calling to the owls!

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?

I'd like to encourage kids who enjoy the outdoors to consider a career in a natural resource field. If you have an outdoor hobby that you enjoy, think of how you might be able to connect that interest to a future career. I did, and I absolutely love my job!

Wildlife

Nearly 50 kinds of mammals and 250 kinds of birds use the Whitewater River Valley during the course of a year. Wild turkeys are in the valley and bald eagles can be found year-around. In the spring, listen and look for the rare bird, the Louisiana waterthrush. Of Minnesota's rare animals and plants, 43 percent live in the Blufflands.

History

Dakota Indians named the river Whitewater because it turned milky white in the spring as high water eroded light-colored clay deposits along its banks. In 1851, a treaty opened up most of southern Minnesota for white settlement, including the Whitewater area. Settlers removed much of the native vegetation in order to farm and graze the land. In 1900, flooding related to land use began. Almost two decades later, local citizens lobbied successfully to establish Whitewater State Park to protect some of the most beautiful parts of the valley. Due to land use practices that were unsuited to the Blufflands rough landscape, flooding increased through the 1920s and 1930s leading to the abandonment of valley farms and towns. In 1938 the nearby town of Beaver flooded 28 times, marking the worst year of flooding in Whitewater Valley. In the early 1940s, state and federal conservation officials worked with local landowners and implemented sweeping conservation measures. Richard Dorer of the Minnesota Department of Conservation (now the Department of Natural Resources) designed a plan for the revival of the Whitewater River Valley. Grass, shrubs, and trees were planted on the slopes. On the uplands, contoured fields and terraces were laid out. Dikes were built forming ponds. The burning of hillside forests was banned. Some erosion prone lands were purchased, which now makes up the 28,000 acre Whitewater Wildlife Management Area adjacent to Whitewater State Park. Today, through the Whitewater Watershed Project, citizens and conservation staff are working together to create a healthier future for the land, water, and people of the Whitewater watershed.

Geology

Nearly 450 million years ago, shallow seas covered most of North America, including southeastern Minnesota. On its bed, sediment accumulated that turned into rock hundreds of feet thick. When the sea withdrew, erosion carved through the bedrock, creating the original valleys and bluffs found in what is now Whitewater State Park. More recently, glacial meltwaters sculpted the cliffs and valleys.

Landscape

When settlers arrived, they found a great diversity of plant life in the Blufflands Landscape Region. In the valleys, they discovered a rich, bottomland forest with clean, spring-fed streams teeming with native brook trout. Oaks grew on some slopes with maple and basswood trees on other slopes. South facing hillsides were covered with prairie. Much of the uplands contained oak savanna, gently rolling prairie with scattered oaks. This Southern Oak Barrens Landscape Region is one of the rarest vegetative community types in Minnesota.