Located in an ancient outwash channel of the Crow River, Roscoe Prairie sits on the eastern edge of what once was an unbroken expanse of prairie. Its surroundings contained wetlands that were once drained for farming. Today the tract is surrounded by previously cultivated agricultural fields, hay meadows, and pastures. Visitors can enjoy birds, flowers, and butterflies on this prairie preserve.
Stearns County (near Paynesville)
Two rare plants can be found on Roscoe Prairie: the small white lady's slipper and Hill's thistle, both of which are listed as species of special concern. Other prairie plants include spiderwort, prairie smoke, three species of gentian, Indian turnip, purple prairie clover, wood sorrel, mountain mint and spiked lobelia.
The preserve originally supported the Dakota Skipper butterfly, but the small, isolated colony has probably died out, as several searches since the last sighting in 1983 have failed to find any Skippers. Recolonization remains a possibility. Other prairie butterflies such as the Poweshiek Skipper and the Regal Fritillary still breed in this preserve. The area also supports birds such as upland sandpipers, American woodcocks, and the marbled godwit (a species of special concern). Roscoe Prairie supports nine mammal species (according to a 1977 inventory), including the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, shorttail weasel, and whitetail jackrabbit.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Roscoe Prairie was preserved because it once was a breeding ground for the Dakota Skipper butterfly, a species threatened in Minnesota. This insect is very rare in North America and is restricted to tallgrass prairie remnants. In 1966, a specimen was collected from Roscoe Prairie, which contains relatively undisturbed native prairie.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The primary threats to the biodiversity at Roscoe Prairie are the introduction of non-native species and the suppression of fire. Except for areas where plowing once occurred, signs of past disturbances are now disappearing. The Nature Conservancy manages the preserve through prescribed burning; monitoring plants, birds, mammals and butterflies; conducting biological inventories and controlling non-native species such as leafy spurge, sweet clover, and Canadian thistle. There is also a recurring threat of woody invasion by willow and aspen in the wet prairie areas, a problem that is addressed by burning and girdling the aspen.
For more information on visiting this and other Minnesota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.
From Paynesville, travel north on County Road 33 for 2.5 miles to County Road 16. Turn east on C.R. 16 and travel one mile. Go south on a gravel road; drive ½ mile and park near the TNC sign. An abandoned railroad, now a state trail, marks the southern boundary. Nearest services are in Paynesville.