On October 13, 1995, Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy purchased and protected 1,110 acres, now known as the Engelwood Preserve, one of the largest undeveloped properties along the shores of the St. Croix River in Osceola. The western border of the Polk County preserve abuts a 323-acre scenic easement held by the National Park Service as part of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, enhancing the property’s conservation value.
The preserve, which was home to the Engelwood Ski Area in the 50s and 60s, offers guests spectacular views from its bluff overlooks. Engelwood’s location at the confluence of a northern boreal forest, an eastern hardwood forest, and a tallgrass prairie creates a unique and diverse habitat for abundant wildlife. These eco-regions feature approximately 730 acres of forested land, including oak savanna, wooded ravines, and floodplain forest; 300 acres of degraded grassland in various stages of restoration, and six small wetland areas (less than 100 acres) along the banks of the St. Croix.
Its distinctive landscape, location, and varied habitat made Engelwood a natural area of strategic importance. Standing Cedars Community Land Trust purchased the property for $1,850,000 in 1995. The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program supplied $1,387,500, or three-fourths of the purchase price, because of the land’s ecological significance.
Naturalists study the remarkably diverse and relatively undisturbed environment and consider it a potential “ark” to preserve rapidly-diminishing prairie species, such as the state-threatened Kittentails (Besseya bullii), species of special concern such as Bog Bluegrass (Poa paludigen) and common native plants like Cream Gentian (Gentiana flavida).
In addition to supporting over 250 varieties of plants and grasses, Engelwood Preserve’s forests, prairies, and wetlands are home to more than 92 types of birds, many considered species of greatest conservation need, including the state-threatened Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea).
Designated as Wisconsin’s 600th State Natural Area in 2009, Engelwood Preserve is free and open to the public. Ten miles of groomed trails and footpaths wind throughout the property, displaying Engelwood’s ecosystems, bubbling spring, and hillside prairie. Two of these trails lead to the edge of the lower St. Croix River. Parking lots provide people with easy access for hiking, cross-country skiing, and exploring all the natural treasures that Engelwood Preserve offers.
Featured image by Ryan Rodgers, courtesy of Standing Cedars Land Conservancy