Formed by the wave action of Glacial Lake Brainerd, the Brainerd Dune Sheet now is home to the Paul Bunyan Savanna, one of 5 jack pine savannas in the state. Hiking and cross-country ski trails maintained by Northland Arboretum ski club provide access into this rare habitat. In the savanna's sand soils grow prairie forbs and grasses, offering a shifting collage of colors from spring through fall.
Brainerd, Crow Wing County, central Minnesota
The forested areas shelter woodland wildflowers, including shinleaf, rattlesnake-plantain, blue-bead lily, and pink lady's slipper. In the savanna, prairie vegetation grows under the jack pine canopy. The dry, sandy soil supports drought tolerant forbs, including silky prairie clover, birdfoot Violet, blue-eyed grass, gayfeather, and pasque flower. Grasses include big bluestem, kalm's brome, muly-grass, porcupine grass and june grass.
The Blanding's turtle, a state threatened species, is found in the savanna and nearby wetlands, along with the eastern hognose snake, a species of special concern.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Paul Bunyan Savanna is on of five remaining jack pine savannas in the state. Located near a dump and the railroad, the savanna escaped development, even in the heart of Brainerd, and the preserve was acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 1986.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Management of the savanna must consider the needs of both prairie and jack pine, which together give the community its unique character. The frequency and intensity of fire required to maintain jack pine savanna must be determined at the site by monitoring the community's response to controlled burning. As few fires have occurred in the area since the 1950's, safety concerns dictate that existing trees be thinned to reduce the fuel load before extensive areas can be burned.
The thinning effort got underway in 1991, when staff and volunteers from Northland Arboretum and the Conservancy cut and removed the smaller jack pines from a five-acre plot supporting the best remnant of the savanna. Since then, the restoration has expanded, giving the prairie vegetation an opportunity to rebound as more sunlight reaches the ground.