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Pine Bend Bluffs restoration work has been a success

Friends of the Mississippi River volunteers and Flint Hills Resources employees spent their Saturday morning clearing buck thorn from the Pine Bend Bluffs. 1 / 2
Friends of the Mississippi River volunteers and Flint Hills Resources employees spent their Saturday morning clearing buck thorn from the Pine Bend Bluffs. 2 / 2

When Flint Hills Resources, the Friends of the Mississippi River and Great River Greening started working together in 1999 to restore the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area, the property was dense with invasive species.

Over time and with lots of effort, the 1,650-acre natural area has come a long way. FMR senior ecologist Karen Schik said 2,000 volunteers have worked diligently to restore the area. Some of the work has focused on re-establishing native prairie and other efforts have brought back oak savanna and oak forest plant communities to the property.

Flint Hills Resources spokesman Jake Reint said the parcel closely resembles pre-settlement conditions, which was a goal of the project.

“Every year the site becomes more and more precious. It’s an amazing piece of property,” said Reint.

The success can be clearly seen on aerial shots of the property taken over the course of the restoration efforts.The effort has earned the Minnesota Environmental Award for Natural Resource Protection.

The work continues, though. Most recently, on Oct. 25, more than 100 volunteers consisting of Friends of the Mississippi River volunteers and Flint Hills employees put in a day of work. The volunteers stacked pre-cut buckthorn and helped with other restoration tasks.

Efforts have included some less traditional methods as well. Several weeks ago a herd of goats was released onto the bluffs to graze. The goats eat buckthorn and their hooves help set native seeds into the ground. This is the second year goats have been included in invasive species removal efforts.

While much progress has been made, Schik said it’s important to continue efforts as the area provides critical habitat for a variety of species including pollinators and migratory birds. Pine Bend is part of the Mississippi River migratory bird flyway, which is host to 40 percent of North American waterfowl and millions of migratory songbirds, according to Friends of the Mississippi River.

Pipelines run through the Pine Bend area and so access to the public is limited to events such as the FMR restoration efforts and some educational opportunities. The area is secured by the U.S. Coast Guard. Reint said there’s no hunting allowed on the property.

“The wildlife have it pretty good out here,” said Reint.

While challenging work, Schik said she had no trouble finding volunteers because the event is one of the few opportunities to access the property.

“We don’t have a hard time getting volunteers because people know it’s their one opportunity to get out here. Visually it’s stunning,” said Schik.

On the Flint Hills side, Reint said refinery employees are dedicated to protecting the environment as well and enjoy being part of efforts to improve one of the largest and most diverse native ecosystems in the metro area.

“It’s been fun to make a difference,” said Reint.

To learn more about the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area visit the Friends of the Mississippi River website at fmr.org.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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