Chippewa Prairie lies along a reservoir of the Upper Minnesota River named Lac qui Parle ("lake that speaks") by early French explorers. Chippewa Prairie represents a small remnant of the once vast northern tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Huge numbers of migratory waterfowl use Chippewa Prairie; it is a vital natural area link to Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and Lac qui Parle (state) Wildlife Management Area.
Western Minnesota, Chippewa and Swift counties, between Milan and Appleton
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Chippewa Prairie is a rich example of the dwindling northern tallgrass prairie ecosystem, making its protection an important part of the Conservancy's efforts in Minnesota. The preserve provides a major migratory stopover for waterfowl along the Minnesota River, and it attracts a large array of native wildlife.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Conservancy purchased its first tract of land at Chippewa in 1971. Subsequent purchases have brought the total property to 1,143 acres, making Chippewa Prairie one of the Minnesota Chapter's largest preserves. In 1999, as part of a cooperative effort between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society and The Nature Conservancy, greater prairie chickens were reintroduced to the area. Birds will be released on Chippewa Prairie as well as on other adjacent wildlife management areas. The Nature Conservancy relies on fire management to maintain the health of the prairie, which is done in cooperation with the Minnesota DNR's Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management office.
What to See: Plants
Chippewa Prairie is a good example of "mesic" prairie, with its deep, black loam soil. The dominant plant species are big bluestem, little bluestem, and Indian grass. Other common plants include purple coneflower, Maximilian's sunflower, and side-oats gramma. Rare plants on the preserve include slender milk-vetch and small white lady's slipper, both species of special concern.
What to See: Animals
Spring and fall are good times to observe migrating flocks of geese, ducks, sandpipers, godwits and other shorebirds. The bluffs above the marshes on the western edge of the preserve are recommended vantage points. In spring evenings, listen for the haunting call of the upland sandpiper. In mid-summer, visitors may see the short-earred owl, a species of special concern. A daytime hunter, this owl sails low over open country in search of small rodents. Other species of special concern include the marbled godwit and two butterflies, the Powesheik skipper and regal fritillary.
For more information on visiting this and other Minnesota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.
From Milan, travel northwest on US Highway 59. Although several gravel roads take you to the preserve, the best route is the county line gravel road about three miles northwest of the Milan town limits. Take this road west two miles to the preserve. Park along the road. Please do not drive onto the preserve.
Camping is available at Lac qui Parle State Park, located southeast of the preserve near the town of Churchill. The nearest services are in the towns of Milan and Appleton.