Sand Coulee Prairie Restoration

In 2001, Friends of the Mississippi River began working with landowners in the Sand Coulee, a unique prairie area near Hastings. With funding from the DNR Prairie Stewardship Program, we developed a management plan for the area. In 2003, management began, funded by the DNR Metro Greenways Program and the landowners.

[Photo: Panoramic view of the Sand Coulee, near Hastings.]

A panoramic view of the Sand Coulee, a dry barrens prairie remnant southeast of Hastings, Minnesota, that local landowners, Friends of the Mississippi River, and the DNR are restoring.

Privately owned among eight landowners, the Sand Coulee is a dry sand prairie of about 80 acres. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is the only sand prairie (also called barrens prairie) in Dakota County, and it is the largest prairie of any kind in the county. About twelve rare plant and animal species, including James polanisia (endangered), sea-beach needle grass, gopher snake and blue racer, have been documented there. Barrens prairie is also a relatively uncommon habitat in the state, where mesic (or tallgrass) prairie was the dominant prairie type. The Coulee is located just beyond the edge of several new housing developments on the edge of town.

Restoration work is focused on removing the invasive grasses and encroaching pine trees that are degrading the ecology of the site. Great River Greening, contracted for some of the work, began felling trees in the winter of 2003-2004. The trees were hauled off the site, chipped, and taken to District Energy where the chip is burned.

In 2005, FMR was awarded nearly $60,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Private Stewardship Grant Program for prairie and woodland restoration work at the Sand Coulee. Only three projects in Minnesota were awarded the grants, which indicates how special the sand coulee is considered to be, even at a federal level.