It begins with the idea of possibility. 

A piece of land becomes available. We go to the land and walk in, full of questions and ideas. 

Is this landscape being overrun by buckthorn, honeysuckle, or other invasive species? Would acquiring this parcel help us support our beloved native plants and animals? If it’s developed, what habitat is lost?

Most importantly, does it meet our mission of saving wild spaces and offering a place where people can connect and engage with nature? 

Flooded river near trees
Oxbow Trails before restoration efforts began

If the answer is a resounding “YES!” then that leads to further questions and decisions. What might our plans be for this property? Should we leave it wild and free for the critters? Or make trails for folks to hike? Or somewhere in between? What staffing, equipment, and money will a restoration here require and on what timeline? 

The answers to these and other questions guide us on our way as we seek to restore a degraded landscape to one that is alive, vital, and full of plants and animals that have called this place home for hundreds of years. We know this path is difficult, not a one-and-done process. We know we need to take a long-term view encompassing decades. This is not a decision to be made lightly. 

Restoration at Oxbow

Wood path into the forest
A path at Oxbow Trails laid with woodchips

Two years ago, Belwin was offered a restoration opportunity when the Oxbow Trails property at 2398 St. Croix Trail South became available. We said YES! 

And the work began. 

Members of the land management team walked the land, assessed what was there and what needed to change. 

Conversations occurred. We looked at maps, pondered plant lists, and took time to actively imagine. Decisions were made and a plan took  form.

 We began by removing the aging and ecologically inappropriate conifers along with any trees that showed signs of disease or hazardous growth. The trees became woodchips. The wood chips covered the trails, which made for easy walking and gave us a huge pile that remains for future use.

Before and After image showing area before and after trees were cleared
Before and after image of tree-clearing at Oxbow Trails

But how now to spread the wood chips? Land staff brainstormed and found a resourceful answer, to retrofit an old manure spreader that was already sitting on site. This repurposed implement is now something Belwin can continue to use on trails for years to come.

Wood chip machine spreading wood chips on forest path
The repurposed woodchip spreader in action

In tandem with the removal of the big trees comes the cutting and treating of all the invasive understory. Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) are the two most prevalent species that outcompete our native shrubs. Crews cut and burned on multiple days in the winter to begin to rid the site of this unwanted vegetation. 

Next came plant surveying, trail layout, trail mowing, trash removal, stump grinding, woody debris removal, fence building, and parking lot creation. Application of foliar sprays were administered for buckthorn and honeysuckle regrowth.

A collective and contented sigh of relief was exhaled as we opened the gate to visitors! 

And we are not done yet….

  • This fall the open ground will be planted with native seeds. 
  • Hand pulling by volunteers will be done in the spring to combat invasive species. 
  • Work will continue to reduce the buckthorn population. 

The great news is, because of what’s been done at this early stage, native plants and animals that live here year round will find all that they need to survive and thrive. Migratory birds will find a resting spot (stopover habitat) on their travels north to breeding grounds and south to winter feeding grounds. Butterflies of many kinds will flit from flower to flower, including our beloved monarch. The creek will run clean and continue to be home for aquatic critters in need of high quality water. 

Landscape restoration is not for the faint of heart. It is a labor of love and a prayer to the earth for renewal not only for the plants and animals but for our spirits as well. 

We hope you visit soon and enjoy the serenity and peace found here.

Thank you for your support of our work in all forms.

Carpe diem! Seize the day!

See you on the trail.

Lynette Anderson takes a photo of a blooming pasque flower at belwin

Attend an upcoming event with Lynette as your guide! Visit our events page for more information.

Animals Bison Land Management Notes from the Land Partnerships Seasonal

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We spark passion for wild places through conservation, education, and immersive experiences on more than 1,500 acres in Minnesota’s Saint Croix Valley.

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1553 Stagecoach Trail South
Afton, MN 55001
651-436-5189
info@belwin.org

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