Hidden Minnesota: 5 underappreciated state parks and recreation areas to visit this year

Southwest Minnesota – Minneopa State Park

Bison at Minneopa State Park // Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota’s third-eldest state park was established in 1905 and is made up of oak savanna and prairie land west of Mankato. The park’s name comes from a Dakota word meaning “water falling twice” in reference to the waterfalls of Minneopa Creek, which runs through the park.

In 2015, Minneopa State Park saw the reintroduction of nearly genetically pure North American bison to its natural habitat with the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd project. The project hopes to maintain a population of around 130 bison at Minneopa and Blue Mound State Park (and the Minnesota Zoo), with 15 bison calling Minneopa State Park home. Visitors to the park in 2017 can take the Bison Drive through the 331 acres that the bison herd grazes.

Related post:Conservation in action: Restoring North America’s bison population

The park’s website encourages visitors to head up to the overlook near the Seppman Windmill, an example of a German-styled wind powered grain mill that began operating in 1864. History abounds in the area, which was a top tourist destination for early Minnesotans even before it achieved state park status.

Minnesotans and visitors have, for over a century, made the journey to Minneopa for the waterfalls and the area’s natural beauty. Supposedly, even the infamous James-Younger Gang spent time there. With the return of the bison, the park’s ability to transport visitors into Minnesota’s past has been greatly enhanced.

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