FRONTENAC — Frontenac State Park added 159 acres to its southwest border overlooking the Pleasant Valley Lakelet, an expansion project that the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota began three years ago.
The expansive blufftop, including the Waconia Cliffs, offers several overlooks spanning three directions, where viewers can see Lake Pepin in the distance, the P&TC said in a news release Thursday.
The addition also includes grasslands being restored with native prairie plants — one impetus for the acquisition, according to the Frontenac State Park Association, which was involved in the project. Today, less than 2% of Minnesota’s once sprawling prairie landscape remains. This land builds on the park’s work to restore this habitat.
“Part of the association’s mission is to re-establish native prairie, and this land adds more of that to the park,” said FSPA President Brian Schrieber. “Plus, anyone who visits will want to take in the unique views — they add a lot to the property.”
The effort to add this land near the main entrance to the 2,300-acre park began in 2017, when the nonprofit P&TC purchased it from a private landowner. At that time, it was excluded from the park’s legislatively authorized boundary, thereby impeding the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' ability to acquire it.
A year later, state Sen. Mike Goggin and Rep. Barb Haley carried the legislation that eventually allowed boundary expansion. Community support from the volunteer-based FSPA proved important to its passage, the P&TC said.
"I encourage all state park lovers to experience the spectacular views from the bluff,” said P&TC’s Executive Director Brett Feldman. “I promise that once you do, you will understand exactly why we went out on a limb to purchase this special place despite not having any assurance that the Legislature would allow us to add it to the park.”
Frontenac is known as one of the best spots in the country to view birds migrating in the spring and fall through the Mississippi River Flyway. Birders have recorded more than 260 species here; Lake Pepin's diverse habitats — bluffland, prairie, floodplain forest and upland hardwood forest — attract numerous warblers, hawks, waterfowl and shorebirds.
During the three years the P&TC owned the land, restoration work continued to ensure that the native prairie acreage was maintained. A local volunteer installed numerous bluebird houses and removed invasive plants as well as old fencing. Plus, hiking paths were mowed to give access to the scenic overlooks that allow visitors to see the landscape spread out over three directions.
With the land now under DNR ownership, plans will begin to be developed for its use by the public, the organizations said.
The park is located between Red Wing and Lake City, and offers expansive views of bluffs along Wisconsin's Pepin and Pierce counties.
The park offers camping, plus manages four forest campgrounds in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest.