A four-acre prairie overlooking the St. Croix River just south of Bayport will be sold to the highest bidder next year, if a plan by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) goes through. Since 1994, the agency has let the nonprofit The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE) manage the site for ecological values.
The land was originally acquired by MnDOT decades ago as the possible site of a new highway rest stop, which never materialized.
Perched atop a high and steep bluff known as “Blueberry Hill” for generations, volunteers have spent thousands of hours over the past three decades bringing the land back to its natural state.
“It was solid buckthorn, trees and brush. You couldn’t see the river,” TPE St. Croix Valley chapter chair Evanne Hunt told St. Croix Valley magazine last year. “We cut down most of the trees (the invasive ones and not native trees) and started a yearly burning program.”
Today, it is valuable habitat for birds, pollinators, and many other types of wildlife in the biologically rich river corridor. It also offers impressive views of Lake St. Croix near the mouth of the Willow River. It is home to clay-colored sparrows and indigo buntings, Dutchman’s breeches, and many monarch butterflies.
Blueberry Hill volunteer efforts (Photos courtesy Evanne Hunt, The Prairie Enthusiasts)
But MnDOT recently told the group that is has deemed Blueberry Hill “surplus property” and it will be put on the market after an appraisal. New homes could adorn the bluff, rather than blazing star and lead plant.
Hunt estimates volunteers have invested more than 1,300 hours of volunteer time at the site since 2005. Chapter members spent two years hand-collecting flower seed to help restore more native plants. They gathered 14 pounds of seed, worth $2,500, and purchased an additional $1,200 worth of seed from local vendors.
“Our group doesn’t have the means to purchase and there are no mechanisms available to preserve and protect state owned lands,” the St. Croix Valley chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts wrote in a Facebook post. “The word of this sale has been a real gut punch to our group. We are at a loss as what to do, to preserve this site.”
A coalition is currently coming together to examine options for preserving the land, whether through acquisition by another group, Washington County, or transferring it to the Department of Natural Resources. or some other method.
Contact The Prairie Enthusiasts – St. Croix Valley chapter for more information.