SNA Nature Notes - Winter 2015

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas header

Winter 2015

In Remembrance of Bruce Dayton

Photo of Big Woods in winter at Wood-Rill SNA

By Bob Djupstrom, Retired SNA Program Supervisor

Minnesota lost an important, yet inconspicuous conservationist this past November.

Bruce Dayton was well known for his support to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and as one of the leaders of the Dayton's Department Store/Target Corporation. What you may not know is he and his wife, Ruth Stricker Dayton gifted a site called Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to the Department of Natural Resources in the mid 1990s.

Wood-Rill SNA (shown in the adjacent photo) was identified by the DNR Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) in 1995 as an outstanding example of Minnesota's "big woods" forest. The first thing I did when the MBS brought the site to my attention was call Wallace (Wally) Dayton, Bruce's brother and former member of the Commissioner's Advisory Committee on SNAs, to ask if he could arrange a meeting with Bruce. Wally called me back within a day to give me Bruce's phone number and said that Bruce was very interested in meeting to discuss protection of the land he and Ruth owned.

The next day I called Bruce and inquired as to when it would be convenient to drive out to meet with him. His response was "How about I drive over to the DNR and meet in your office." Our meeting started with me addressing the ecological importance of his forested land and how we would like to see it protected in perpetuity as a SNA. I noted that one of the options that the DNR used to protect land was purchase. Even today I recall, before I could mention other options, Bruce's response; "What would you say if I gave it to you?", and my immediate response being "That would be fantastic!"

So began a long relationship that ultimately saw Bruce and Ruth gift their "big woods" forest. As I remember the Dayton's had started putting together this special place, piece by piece, since the late 1940s. Within a year Bruce contacted me to inquire if it would be important to acquire one or more of the private inholdings in the woods; basically single family homes on small acreages. With an affirmative response from me, Bruce not only acquired the first inholding but funded the home demolition, taking the initiative to hire a salvage company to recycle whatever could be reused! Today that parcel serves as the public parking area for visitors. In subsequent years Bruce acquired additional parcels and donated more of his own, funded building demolition and even funded the restoration efforts to grow new trees on the now empty lots.

Photo of deer exclosure at Wood-Rill SNA

Bruce also made a major donation to the University of Minnesota following his land donation to permit the University to establish a Center for Forest Ecology in an effort to accelerate research into the ecological relationships in hardwood forests. To aid research at Wood-Rill, Bruce also funded a project to construct a deer exclosure in Wood-Rill (shown in the adjacent photo). This exclosure has provided researchers with dramatic evidence of the impact of earthworms and white-tailed deer on the ecology of hardwood forests.

Public access and interpretation efforts were also the beneficiaries of his largesse. Bruce hosted a gathering for neighbors abutting Wood-Rill, many of whom had ridden horses and walked their dogs on the trail system that Bruce had developed since his first acquisition. I was the guest speaker to introduce to them what an SNA was. Bruce mentioned to them that horses no longer would be permitted so as to control erosion and to prevent additional invasive species from being introduced into the woods. His personal involvement was crucial to gaining acceptance with the local community. He also funded the construction of a boardwalk that created a handicap accessible loop trail and he funded interpretive signs for the trails.

I recall a conversation once when I suggested that perhaps we could have a large boulder moved to the entrance of the parking lot and a plaque placed on it with the name "Wood-Rill", to which Bruce just casually replied that he always felt a plaque on a rock was a good way to deface a rock. Today the traditional wood entrance sign is still there.

For those wondering where the name "Wood-Rill" comes from, Bruce explained it heralds from a line in a poem by William Wordsworth; "His daily teachers had been woods and rills" referring to woods and small streams. Bruce loved his walks in his and now your "big woods."

Bruce in later years was also a major contributor to and advisor on the acquisition of the first tract of land that is now called Pine Bend Bluffs SNA in Dakota County.

The citizens of Minnesota lost a great friend and conservationist with Bruce's passing, but he will continue to be remembered at Wood-Rill and Pine Bend Bluffs, among other initiatives in which he was involved.

Transplanting Tuberous Indian Plantain

Photo of plants in truck bed ready to be transplanted

By Megan Benage, DNR Ecologist Southern Region

Kasota Prairie Scientific and Natural Area is a 45 acre prairie in Le Sueur County on a bluff overlooking the Minnesota River. It is home to a diverse array of prairie wildflowers and grasses. Kasota Prairie was once part of a larger prairie complex, but in recent years big changes have occurred, with a frac-sand mine about to expand to within 200' feet of the SNA on three sides.

The prairie that will become a mine supports a large population of the state-threatened, Tuberous Indian-plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum). After several years of negotiation with the mining company, the DNR decided to permit the destruction of this rare plant population and its habitat. To mitigate this impact, the mining company provided funds to the DNR to enhance the viability of the species elsewhere in the state.

Although the rare plants' habitat will be destroyed, the DNR decided to attempt something it has never done before by salvaging and moving the plants into the adjacent Kasota Prairie SNA. While this does not save the population that will be destroyed, the DNR decided that it was worth trying to use the plants to establish new populations elsewhere. A team of scientists from the DNR and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum worked for months to determine how best to approach this project.

The DNR doesn't normally move plants because transplants often fail. Native plants exist in natural communities, and each species responds to the unique set of resources that exists where it grows. These resources include soil, moisture, nutrients, other species, and microorganisms that have co-evolved at the site since the glaciers receded 12,000 years ago. In short, nature is complex and we don't have all the answers. Finding the answers takes the most limiting resource of all—time. So, the transplant project is an experiment. We'll try to learn if and how transplanting this rare plant can be done successfully.

Not ones to be daunted, the DNR and the Arboretum staff worked together for over a year to develop a transplant project strategy using the best information we could find. The Arboretum's Curator of Endangered Plants, Dr. David Remucal, purchased tuberous Indian plantain seeds and grew them in an Arboretum greenhouse to learn more about rooting structures, growth patterns, and how the species reproduces. Dr. Remucal, DNR Resource Manager Molly Tranel, and DNR Ecologist Megan Benage monitored the plants in the field to detect the optimal time for transplanting—after the plants had gone dormant, but while a few remaining leaves were still visible to identify them. Before we knew it, it was September and the plants were ready—luckily so were we!

Photo of Conservation Corps crew transplanting tuberous Indian plantain at Kasota Prairie SNA

On September 9, with the help of volunteers and a Conservation Corps Minnesota crew, we moved 147 plants to Kasota Prairie and 76 plants to Minneopa State Park. These two sites were selected based on the similarity of their micro site conditions to the mine land property. The state park was also selected because scientists had noted that although cattle had been grazing the mining site for many years, they seem to have avoided grazing the tuberous Indian plantain. Bison have been reintroduced to Minneopa State Park, and the transplants there will allow scientists to learn whether or not grazing will improve survival of the plantain.

These plants will be studied for the next three years by Arboretum staff. In addition to tracking them, they may also supplement the population, if needed, with seedlings grown from seed collected at the mine site earlier in the summer.

Now, we wait for spring, and hopefully the emergence of no less than 223 tuberous Indian plantains in their new homes!

Many thanks to all who helped make this project a success: Rich Baker, Megan Benage, Brad Bolduan, Mark Cleveland, Robb Collett, Fred Harris, Pete Moe, David Remucal, Molly Tranel, Ella Emelianenko, Ricky Garza, Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, Megan Keller, Teri Ningen, Tim Pulis, Gary Rathman, Randy Schindle, Nancy Spooner-Mueller, Jamie Swenson, Mitch, Harriett, and the Mankato CCM crew (Jack Liesch, Preston Osland, Justin Doyle, and Casey Reep).



SNA Events

Photo of piled brush

Don't let a little cold and snow stop you. Come on out and volunteer! The stewardship projects at Lost Valley Prairie SNA are held monthly throughout the year (except December). A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.



Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Burn Brush, Invasive Removal


Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Burn Brush, Invasive Removal


Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Clear Brush




Site Highlight: Cherry Grove Blind Valley SNA

Photo of Cherry Grove Blind Valley endemic millipede

Cherry Grove Blind Valley SNA in southeastern Minnesota's blufflands was preserved for its karst features. Karst is a landscape formed when limestone or dolostone is
dissolved by water. These connected features are some of the most complex and extensive known in Minnesota and it’s rare that so many of them occur in such a small area. Soon new interpretive signs will help inform and explain the importance of this SNA to visitors. Here is a taste of you will learn if you visit: "Science is why this site was preserved as a natural area. Research here has turned up interesting finds. For example a survey of cave animals in which a new species of millipede was discovered. This millipede is endemic to the cave system under Cherry Grove Blind Valley (it is found nowhere else in the world)."



Notes from Site Stewards

Photo of fall color on Sunfish Lake in Mille Lacs Moraine SNA

Site stewards monitor SNAs across Minnesota. Their observations provide invaluable information to the SNA Program. Here are some interesting notes from reports:

  • Fall colors were at their peak when site steward Dave Strand made his steward observations on October 15th at Mille Lacs Moraine SNA. Except for a few new downed trees the site was in good condition. Adjacent photo of Mille Lacs Moraine was taken from a past visit by SNA staff.
  • At Chamberlain Woods SNA new steward John Banschbach walked most of the boundary of the site and encountered deer and turkeys on October 18th. A deer stand was noted outside boundary of the SNA.
  • Another new site steward Burl Haar began his duties at Spring Creek Prairie SNA on November 25th. His general inspection of the site noted recent red cedar removal by SNA staff.

Thanks for all the work you do for SNAs stewards!



Nature Notes is the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas quarterly e-newsletter (archive online). It seeks to increase interest, understanding and support of natural areas while promoting involvement in the protection of these special places. Contact us at


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).