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Natural areas in Minnesota can be divided into three general communities:
prairie, deciduous forest, and coniferous forest. MacDougall Homestead, located
at the crossroads of these general community types, contains examples of each.
Within this 215-acre preserve are 18 vegetative types, including bluestem prairie, oak savanna, white pine woods, deciduous forests, alder-sedge-swamp, and birch-tamarack woods. In all, 145 species of plants, 30 species of butterflies, 58 species of birds, and 13 species of mammals have been observed at MacDougall Homestead.
Parts of the Homestead were farmed for more than 70 years before the Conservancy acquired it. The original house and barn still stand. The area is listed in the National Register of Historic Sites as the place where William Warren Whipple, an Ojibway Indian, wrote a history of his people.
Beyond the farmyard a steep slope descends to the lower terrace of the Mississippi River. The river once looped through a channel in this terrace at the base of the bluff before cutting its present straighter channel. A part of the terrace was farmed and is now old field. The woods on the north side of the old field have an excellent spring wildflower display.
A narrow strip of bluestem prairie flanks the drive into the Homestead. Beyond the prairie are abandoned fields where some prairie restoration has taken place. Behind the buildings are stands of white pine where approximately 50 pairs of great blue herons have nested in recent years. Since the 1890s colonies of herons nested in the area, first in the woods across the river from the Homestead, then on the wooded island, and presently in the pines. The pines are dying, possibly resulting from a combination of drought, disease and the impact of the herons. There is no pine regeneration, so the future of the pine stand and the heron colony is uncertain (see also Egret Island and Cold Spring Heron Colony). Controlled burning under the pines to remove the shrubs and ground litter may recreate the open sun and mineral soil conditions needed for pine seed germination.
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