Oxbow Trails is located along St. Croix Trail South and Valley Creek

Belwin is hard at work developing the Oxbow Trails property, which will soon be open to the public. Our team reached a significant milestone this winter at our new property located along St. Croix Trail South and Valley Creek: completing the cutting of invasive species and unhealthy, hazardous trees. 

“First, we want a simple trail system where people can easily park and go for a walk,” says Operations Director Justin Sykora. “After this initial stage of development, we can go from there, making plans to use the new infrastructure for guided hikes, events, and other programming.” 

Partnering with the city of Afton, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Washington County, and others, Belwin has been working since 2020 to create this new nature preserve. The project is centered on a 30-acre parcel Belwin purchased from a willing seller with funding from Washington County’s Land and Water Legacy Program. The hiking area will also include 10 acres of city-owned land. It’s a one-of-a-kind project for a special space. 

“Oxbow Trails will provide a unique view of Valley Creek as a meandering creek bed,” says Belwin Interpretive Naturalist and Restoration Specialist Lynette Anderson. “It will also showcase the importance of areas like this for flooding of the St. Croix, as this is a tributary and takes on lots of the flood waters every year.” 

River running through forest, area slightly flooded

Restoration work is being supported by the DNR’s Conservation Partners Legacy program. The money has made it possible to hire contractors to complete the first phase: removing the invasive and diseased trees, then wood-chipping them on-site. Belwin will take over ongoing management and plans to spread the chips on new paths around the property later this year.

The sky is the limit for the future, Sykora adds. Work is ongoing, and Belwin will open the property to the public by fall. What began as cherished private land populated with non-native plants will soon be a healthy ecosystem with wildlife habitat and opportunities for anyone to experience it — forever.

Creating a forest footpath 

A manure spreader was converted into a woodchip spreader.

Creating a good forest footpath is a special challenge. On Belwin’s plentiful prairies, workers can basically mow a trail and it’s ready to walk. But the new trails planned for this hilly and wooded area take a bit more thinking and work. 

“We base trails on focal points, like great places to admire a view, and to maximize use of the property,” says Operations Director Sykora. But trails can’t just go point-to-point, they must be laid out to make it possible for the average visitor to easily travel. 

“We can’t have trails that go straight up and down steep slopes,” Sykora says. There won’t be as much prescribed fire on the property as on Belwin’s prairies, but planners still try to ensure trails will be usable as fire breaks in the future. Deciding on the final route takes knowledge of land and good practices, but Sykora says the trails on this new hiking area will largely be based on Belwin staff’s experience with the land and their hopes for its future. 

For information regarding all of Belwin trails, visit belwin.org/visit/#trails

Land Management Meadowlark Newsletter Spring-Summer 2022

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