Minneopa State Park
Whether it's a wooded walk along southern Minnesota's largest waterfall, a family celebration in the historic shelter, or a pleasant stroll back in time to a 19th-century German grist mill, Minneopa State Park near Mankato offers something special to every visitor.
HISTORY: Minneopa Falls formed some 14,000 years ago as the creek cut through sandstone of varying degrees of hardness on its way to the Minnesota River. Early settlers in the area included Woodland Indians and, later, Sisseton Dakota Indians. Toward the end of the 19th century, the falls area was quite popular with local residents and tourists, who traveled by train, paddleboat, and horse and wagon to picnic and enjoy the sights. Today the park is a local favorite for weddings and family reunions.
FUN FACT: Early European settlers called the area Minne inne nopa, from Dakota words that can be translated to mean "water falling twice."
NATURE: Perched on the western edge of the Big Woods, the park's 1,000-acre terrain includes not only the tree-covered hills surrounding the waterfalls, but also oak savanna and native prairie. Rest in the shade of yellow birch or blue beech-both unusual trees for this part of the state-that grow in the cool, damp habitat along Minneopa Creek. Listen and watch for red-bellied woodpeckers, great crested flycatchers, eastern towhees, wild turkeys, bullsnakes, white-tailed deer, and coyotes.
SPOT THIS: Minneopa's grasslands are dotted with glacial erratics-big boulders, some 4 feet in diameter, carried here from the north by glaciers more than 15,000 years ago. The Dakota called the area Tinta inya ota-"Prairie With Many Rocks." Learn more about erratics in "Roving Boulders," another article in this months Minnesota Coservation Volunteer
INSIDER'S FAVORITE: Minneopa park manager Howard Ward is particularly fond of the view of the Minnesota River valley from the hill where historic Seppman Mill stands at the north end of the park. The wind-driven mill, built from stone and wood by a German farmer, was used to grind wheat in the early 1860s.
SURPRISES: Designated Minnesota's third state park in 1905, Minneopa turns 100 this year. Help celebrate July 3 by joining in the Minneopa Memories birthday party and old-fashioned picnic, with root-beer floats, lawn games, and old-time music.
SEASONAL ADVENTURES If you hike along Minneopa Creek in early May, you're likely to see sharp-lobed hepatica, nodding trillium, rue-anemone, and other spring ephemerals. The waterfalls in the heart of the park are the largest in southern Minnesota. Bring binoculars and a field guide to birds because you might catch glimpses of red-eyed vireos, blackburnian warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and other migrating songbirds.
For more events and information, see Minneopa State Park or contact the DNR at 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367.