River Oaks Park

River bluff at sunset with volunteers

Where is River Oaks Park?

This city-owned park is in Cottage Grove, just southeast of River Oaks Golf Course. While the park is a small, 2-acre bluff, the restoration work here is part of a larger effort to protect and preserve a natural green corridor on either side of the river for our waters and our wildlife.

That corridor includes over 600 acres of natural area just north of this park on the Mississippi River surrounding 3M's Cottage Grove facility, where FMR has been restoring habitat for over 15 years. FMR also restores nearby Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park and Grey Cloud Dunes SNA.

The public is welcome to visit River Oaks Park, or River Oaks Scenic Overlook as it's called on this city parks map. There is an unimproved parking area, but no facilities. A narrow natural surface trail starts at the end of the cul-de-sac parking area on Kingsborough Trail leads you to a bluff prairie overlooking the expansive Mississippi River.

Our work here takes place on Dakota homelands. Learn more.

What's special about River Oaks Park?

Bring your binoculars! After you wend your way through the forest, woodland, oak savanna and finally to the beautiful bluff prairie, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the river and the lands beyond. Standing atop this bluff, you can see for miles, with an impressive 180-degree field of vision. Look for Schaar's Bluff and the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area across the water, and the Hastings spiral bridge downstream.

Small but impressive, River Oaks Park harbors a special remnant bedrock bluff prairie full of diverse native dry prairie plants. At one time, prairie was a fairly common plant community all along the river bluffs, but it's increasingly scarce and fragmented today. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources identified this remnant in 1987 as having high biodiversity.

prairie plants on bluff over river

If you visit, you'll find little bluestem, Muhly grass, big bluestem, Indiangrass, harebells, butterfly milkweed, prairie violet, rough blazing star, leadplant, silky aster, yellow sundrops, false foxglove and American bittersweet. Visit this site in late summer to see the purple from hundreds of blazing star that provide essential nectar and habitat for monarchs and other pollinators as they move along the river corridor.

The steep side slopes south of the bluff prairie are densely wooded and include exposed bedrock, adding even more interest to the site. Since we've cleared invasive woody brush from the site, the woodlands are much more open, and the once-hidden prairie and bedrock are again visible.

Our work at River Oaks Park

During the mid-1800s, the site was a combination of oak savanna and bedrock bluff prairie. It remained biodiverse habitat until the late 1990s when a city-commissioned report warned that if no management efforts occurred soon, invasive plants would slowly take over the prairie.

When we wrote a natural resource management plan for the site in 2012, our first goal was to remove the invasive woody plants — primarily buckthorn, Tartarian honeysuckle and sumac. Since this initial removal, we've done additional tree thinning to return parts of the site to woodland and savanna densities. We've also conducted follow-up buckthorn work and native woodland seeding.

As part of our management plan, we use prescribed fire approximately every three years, both to keep invasive species in check and to aid the growth of fire-adapted prairie species. We broadcast native prairie seed after each burn to encourage additional diversity and growth in this beautiful bluff prairie.

Prairie burn with river below bluff

Find out more and get involved

Partners and funders for our work at River Oaks Park

This work is made possible by the City of Cottage Grove, the 3M Foundation, Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), and by our generous donors like you!

Upcoming Events

Friday, September 30, 2022 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Online
Saturday, August 27, 2022 - 9:00am to Saturday, December 31, 2022 - 11:00am
Rice Creek Watershed District
Thursday, September 29, 2022 - 6:00pm
Nicollet Island Pavilion, Minneapolis

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