Have you been to Elk River’s newest outdoor gem? The William H. Houlton Conservation Area is a 335-acre property located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Elk rivers in Sherburne County. It was one of the largest undeveloped family-owned riverfront properties between Elk River and Hastings. Since 2014, Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) has been working with the city of Elk River to protect and restore Houlton into high-quality wildlife habitat.
Now, 180 acres of farm fields and degraded grassland have been converted to diverse native prairie and savanna habitat, and 155 acres of floodplain and mix hardwood forests is being restored through invasive plant removal and native seeding and planting. This work not only restores important habitat types that have experienced a tremendous historical decline, but replaces a monoculture system (primarily soybeans) with a high-diversity native plant community that benefits wildlife from the ground up.
Now in its third growing season, the expansive prairie is starting to yield results. Reptiles and amphibians are using the newly installed wetland habitats, and pollinator surveys have shown steady increases in abundance and diversity, with 2019 surveys finding 16 species of bumblebees and 25 species of butterflies. Bird surveys are also showing exciting results, as species like grasshopper sparrows and savanna sparrows are now using the restoration.
Join FMR ecologists Alex Roth and Karen Schik to hear about the stunning changes happening at the site, learn about the experimentation and partnerships that are driving conservation research, and see how this restoration is benefitting wildlife, water quality, and the public.