Welcome to Beaver Creek Valley State Park
[Kacie] Hello, and welcome to Beaver Creek Valley State Park. My name is Kacie.
[Chad] And I'm Chad!
[Kacie] We're glad you could join us on this walk along the Beaver Creek Valley Trail today. Did you know you're at one of the state's most biologically diverse parks? Meaning many rare things can be found here! While on this walk we'll introduce you to 5-lined skinks, Algific talus slopes, the Louisiana Waterthrush, and more - all while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Minnesota Blufflands.
Before we get started, I'll tell you a little about how this is going to work. Along the trail you'll notice a series of wooden benches placed throughout. Many of these benches have been given a number, which you'll find in the upper right corner of the bench. That number corresponds to a chapter of this audio guide. If you're starting at the Beaver Creek Valley Trail parking lot, the first bench you come to will be designated #1. Pause at that bench and scroll to Chapter 1 within this audio guide to learn about the unique feature of that area.
You might want to grab a map of the Beaver Creek Valley Trail before we head out, to more easily find your way around.
The time it takes to complete this tour will be different for everyone depending on how long you'd like to explore each stop, take pictures, or just take a break. Because this trail is four miles round-trip, you can expect to take about two hours to complete this tour.
Beaver Creek Valley State Park is located among the beautiful bluffs of Southeastern Minnesota. This trail in particular will take you to some of the most scenic areas it has to offer. As you explore, remember to take only pictures, leave only footprints, and always watch your step.
Your comments about this audio tour are greatly appreciated and can be given by contacting Beaver Creek Valley State Park directly.
OK! Are you ready? Begin your journey anywhere along the trail and keep an eye out for numbered benches. When you see one, play the corresponding chapter of this audio guide for more information. Thank you again for joining us, and enjoy your day here at Beaver Creek Valley State Park.
Bench One: Algific Talus Slopes
[Chad] Algific talus slope. What does that mean? Well, Algific means 'cold producing', and talus means 'broken rock'. So, an Algific talus slope is basically an area of broken rock - usually along a crack - that has opened a vent of cool air and water.
At the bottom of an Algific talus slope, you might notice broken rock debris that has been covered by a layer of soil. This unique plot of soil is able to sustain species of plants and animals only found under such rare conditions, including a species of land snails that are thought to have been around since the retreat of the last ice sheets 12,000 years ago! The rare plant Golden saxifrage is widely distributed in the Arctic, but only found on these cold slopes anywhere else in the world. In fact, the only known population of Golden saxifrage in Houston County is in Beaver Creek Valley State Park. That's because the park - with the help of visitors like you - has been able to preserve the cold microclimate of these unique resources year-round by eliminating any disturbance.
Algific talus slopes are so fragile that simply walking on one could cause it to collapse entirely, wiping out its entire population of rare species and preventing it from ever returning. Pretty cool, huh? I'll bet you didn't know Beaver Creek Valley State Park was a host of arctic plants and generations of snails whose families were around 2 1/2 billion years ago! Because it's relatively camouflaged you might not be able to see the Algific talus slope in this area, but there is one around here. Please stay on the trail to avoid harm to it. Enjoy your stop - see you at the next numbered bench!
Bench Two: Ancient Seas, Massive Ice Sheets, and the Big Spring
[Kacie] Hike to the Switchback Trail Overlook for a great view of Beaver Creek Valley. This one-and-a-half-mile trail will take you back and forth along the soft, bench-like sandstone and limestone bedrock that makes up the beautiful bluffs of southeastern Minnesota. This sandstone was the result of inland seas that covered this area 500 million years ago! As those seas dried up they left behind miles of sandy shores, which, over time, hardened from sand and other sea sediments into sandstone.
It wasn't until 100,000 years ago - nearly 450 million years after the seas had dried up - that much of Minnesota and all of Canada was covered by a massive sheet of ice, or glacier. As periods of glacial advances began to melt - the last one being 10,000 years ago - they created gushing glacial rivers that tore through this area. As they dug their way through the bedrock, they created these bluffs of Beaver Creek Valley State Park.
Because the area bedrock is composed of a variety of porous and imporous layers, water is forced out between them, producing numerous springs. One of these is the Big Spring. Water is constantly collecting at rocky depths in places called 'aquifers' after rainfalls, or even as standing surface water slowly soaks into the ground. As this water collects, it carves numerous underground ravines that occasionally lead it out of the rock, producing a spring. While it appears that springs are naturally bringing water up, against gravity...they're not! The aquifer for such springs is actually higher up in the bluffs. The pooled water is simply following an inner ravine downward to the opening of the spring.
Follow the Switchback Trail to view the most impressive spring in Beaver Creek Valley State Park - the Big Spring. When you're ready to continue along the Beaver Creek Valley Trail, keep an eye open for the next numbered bench to learn more!
Bench Three: Brrr...Cold Water Streams
[Chad] Did you get a chance to dip your toes or fingers in Beaver Creek? If so, you might have noticed that it's a bit cooler than you might have expected. That's because it's a cold water stream. Cold water streams, unlike other streams, will never exceed 72 degrees on even the hottest days of the year. On the other hand, they are always above freezing in the winter. These constant temperatures are the result of being predominantly spring-fed.
Springs are openings in the ground that allow water that has been collected within to run out. Because the ground is cooler than the surrounding air, the collected water is cooler too. In order to maintain this temperature, the stream cannot be mixed with a lot of warm water from lakes and rivers. Therefore, cold water streams typically drain less than 100 square miles of land around them. For comparison, the Mississippi River drains over 1.2 million square miles of land!
Although cold water streams can be found statewide, they are generally concentrated in the southeastern parts of Minnesota where the bluffs allow for a multitude of cold water springs, therefore creating cold water streams. These communities contain relatively few fish species and are dominated by trout, which prefer cooler temperatures. The rarity of these streams is partly due to their susceptibility to temperature change. Warm water runoff from urban areas, parking lots, and mismanaged watersheds destroy cold water streams and their habitat...something to keep in mind when we're enjoying those warm, rainy days.
Bench Four: Louisiana Waterthrush in Minnesota!
[Sound of a Louisiana Waterthrush call]
[Kacie] Did you hear that? That was a Louisiana Waterthrush! Unlike many birds, the males and females are very similar in shape, size, and color. Full-grown, they are about five inches long. They have dark brown wing and tail feathers, and white, dark-spotted bellies. Their throat is completely white and their most predominant features are their white eyebrows that widen behind their eyes.
Can you see any around here? These neotropical warblers prefer mixed forests with little undergrowth, and like to be near clear, flowing streams. Does that sound like the area you're in?!
Since Beaver Creek Valley became a state park, park and area resource staff have worked to restore trout habitat, thus cleaning up Beaver Creek. Being that Beaver Creek Valley State Park is one of the few places this species of special concern is spotted year after year, they must have done a good job. So, look around...can you see or hear a Louisiana Waterthrush?
Bench Five: Beaver Creek - A Restored Success
[Kacie] Have you noticed how clear and clean Beaver Creek is? Today it is healthy, self-sustaining, and a prided resource of Minnesota, but it hasn't come without hard work.
Beginning in the mid 1800's, settlement and land use changes resulted in increased runoff, erosion, and reduced flow of Beaver Creek. It had become warmer and laden with sediment. This resulted in a reduced population and reproduction of native brook trout and other wildlife. In 1971, crews worked to remove loads of debris from East Beaver Creek. This resulted in increased habitat and reproduction of native wildlife. In 1996, severe flooding damaged a number of those previous improvements, and additional restoration projects were undertaken on the damaged and lower end of Beaver Creek.
The stream now self-supports populations of brook and brown trout, white suckers, slimy sculpins, and Johnny darters, along with a wide variety of insects, birds, and other fascinating animals. It is one of 181 cold water streams in southeastern Minnesota - a great success when compared to the 76 that existed in 1970.
Bench Six: Calling all Timber Rattlesnakes
[Sound of a Timber Rattlesnake rattle]
[Chad] Did you hear that? That would be what you might hear if you find yourself close to a Timber Rattlesnake! But don't worry, they're not as dangerous as you might think. Because they can grow to be three to four feet long and have venomous fangs, they've gotten a worse reputation than they probably deserve. In fact, they have become a threatened population.
Up until 1989 there was a bounty, or reward, for killing a Timber Rattlesnake, which greatly decreased their population. It doesn't help that their preferred habitat of bluff prairies is in constant decline due to urban development and landscape damages. Today, if you're lucky enough to see one, look for their yellow brown body with dark black bands and a black tail. Because they are cold-blooded, they enjoy basking in the sun atop south-facing outcrops. They spend their evenings hunting rabbits, shrews, weasels, and insects.
How do they hunt in the dark, you might ask? Timber Rattlesnakes are unique in that they have a heat-sensitive facial disk that helps them detect warm-blooded prey without even seeing them! They do also have eyesight that allows them to pick up on quick movements. Come winter, they'll spend their time hibernating in dens or deep crevices in the blufflands, sometimes with other Timber Rattlesnakes or species of snakes.
So, while you're on your hike today, keep an eye out for the rare sighting of a Timber Rattlesnake. Remember, they're more scared of you than you are of them so you shouldn't feel threatened. But in any case, keep your distance and stay calm, and remember they are protected. When you return to the park office we're always interested in rattlesnake and other wildlife sightings, so let us know what you found!
Bench Seven: A Trip in Time to Beaver Creek Valley
[Kacie] As you stand here today, look out and imagine what life would have been like in this area hundreds - even thousands - of years ago.
In the mid-1800's this area attracted European settlers because of rich agricultural soils, hardwoods, and spring-fed streams. Located just downstream from the parking lot you'll see remnants of the Schech flour mill, which was built in 1876. Just north of the park is a fully operating, original flour mill which was built in 1875. Today, it is the only flour mill known to contain complete and original equipment, and one of three in Minnesota to still use water power.
Archeological surveys report that there was once an American Indian village just north of the park. While they and many settlers came to live on the area resources, people have historically used them recreationally; bathing in the Big Spring and picnicking amongst the hardwoods.
It was in 1936 that the first piece of land was purchased by the state, designating it a state park. As part of President Roosevelt's "New Deal", members of the Works Progress Administration constructed the park entrance road in 1940. In 1963 the park was expanded to over 1,000 acres in order to preserve threatened habitat atop the bluffs.
Today the park offers you over 1,200 acres of beautiful blufflands to enjoy, including 48 campsites, three group camps, a developed picnic grounds, and eight miles of hiking trails. So thank you for being part of Beaver Creek Valley State Park's history and making it a part of yours. Enjoy your walk, and I look forward to seeing you at the next stop.
Bench Eight: Brook & Brown: The Trout of Beaver Creek
[Chad] Welcome back! We hope you're enjoying your walk along the Beaver Creek Valley Trail. At this point, you've made it as far into the blufflands as we're going to go on this walk. From here, we'll begin the loop back to where we began. While you're here, though, take a moment to explore Beaver Creek from the bridge. Can you spot anything? Macro invertebrates or water bugs? Wildlife? How about trout?
Because Beaver Creek is a cold water stream, it is home to a different variety of fish than you may be used to in warm water lakes and rivers. This is greatly due to the constant, above freezing, temperature of this spring-fed cold water stream. Brook Trout - or "Brookies" - are one of two species native to Minnesota; the other is the Lake Trout. Brook Trout are colorful with light colored bellies and sides, a dark green to black back, and lightly colored lines with red and blue rimmed spots. They are very picky about where they live, requiring 50-60 degree water with an abundance of oxygen. Although they are extensively stocked throughout the state, they are self-sustaining in Beaver Creek.
Brown Trout, on the other hand, are native to Europe and Asia, and were introduced into Minnesota in the early 1900's when people settled from other parts of the world. They are the hardiest of all the trout species and can tolerate warmer, cloudier waters. The typical adult size of a Brown Trout is 13-16 inches and they are most easily recognized by their pale brown sides and spotted dorsal - or top - fin.
Not sure which trout you're seeing? It might be a hybrid of the Brook and Brown Trout, as they're commonly interbred during their late fall spawning seasons! If you're interested in trout fishing, check the latest fishing regulations guide for legal seasons and streams.
OK, we're halfway through! We'll meet you at the next numbered bench.
Bench Nine: The American Redstart
[Sound of an American Redstart call]
[Kacie] Did you hear that? That was an American Redstart! Beaver Creek Valley State Park provides great habitat for these forest songbirds. Although they winter in Mexico and Central and South America, they are commonly seen here spring through fall.
Growing to be just over four inches long, the males are easily noticed by the orange-red patches on their breast, wing and tail. Females are similar, showing yellow patches. While their belly is mainly white, the rest of their feathers are black. Their flat beak and proportionally large wings and tail are typical of the flycatcher family, despite them being a wood-warbler. They do, however, feed very actively on flies and other small insects.
Can you spot any American Redstarts around here?
Bench Ten: Plateau Rock Trail & Overlook
[Chad] Whether you're at the beginning or end of your hike, if you're looking for a few extra miles, climb to the Plateau Rock Overlook along the Plateau Rock Trail.
This three-mile round-trip trail will take you along the bluff sides for a spectacular view of the restored prairie to the south, lowland hardwood forest to the west, and oak forest to the north. In fact, you might see this pattern on other slopes within Minnesota. Because the sun shines longer and more intense on the southern horizon, you'll find the drier prairies and savannahs on the south-facing slopes. This leaves the northern slopes to be more cool and moist...perfect for maple-basswood forests.
Use caution, though, if you choose to take this trail. It is a steeper trail, and meant for hikers to take their time and enjoy their surroundings. You can expect to add about an hour and a half to your walk. Have fun!
Bench Eleven: All For the Hike of One
[Kacie] The beautiful blufflands exhibit some of the most diverse landscapes in Minnesota. Although the area only makes up 3% of the state's land area, it contains 43% of its rare plants, animals, and natural communities. It is the most biologically diverse 10,000 square miles of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.
As you walk the Beaver Creek Trail, you'll notice the steep sandstone bluffs accented with bursts of dolomite. You'll meander through the lowland hardwoods of willow and boxelder trees, sneak past the maples and basswoods, and climb to the reaches of the old oak forest.
Beaver Creek Valley is home to 27 rare plants, seven rare animals, three species of reptiles, five amphibians, seven Algific talus slopes (or ice caves), 18 mammals, and over 160 different kinds of birds.
So take your time here at Beaver Creek Valley State Park! Watch for scurrying animals, listen for whistling birds, smell the variety of wildflowers, get in touch with the nature around you, and most of all, enjoy this taste of Minnesota's blufflands.
Bench Twelve: Snake? Lizard? Skink!
[Chad] Not only do you need to be looking up and ahead while you're hiking the Beaver Creek Trail, you need to be looking down around here as well...looking for any five-lined skinks!
This endangered lizard species grows up to eight inches long, and you can just about guess how it got its name. That's right! Five-lined skinks have five yellow lines running lengthwise down their bodies. They have scales like snakes, and are black, smooth and shiny. But that's not all: males will get an orange-red coloring around their jaw during the breeding season, and juveniles (young skinks) have a bright blue tail!
Can you see any scattering around here? They like bluff prairies, especially where there are south-facing rocky outcrops like these bluffs, where they can warm up. Because they are cold-blooded, and are therefore a similar temperature as their surroundings, they hibernate during the winter months.
When a new nest of six to ten eggs hatch each spring, they quickly learn to scavenge for crickets, beetles, and spiders. But good luck scavenging for them...if attacked by a predator, a skink will drop its tail! The detached tail will wiggle about, distracting the predator while the skink escapes. Its tail will then likely grow back, just shorter and stubbier.