113,105 annual visits
16,039 overnight visits
Although there is no naturalist on staff at this park, interpretive programs are presented periodically at the park from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The prairie, hardwoods and wetlands provide habitat for many animals. White-tailed deer, raccoon, red and gray fox, muskrat, opossum, squirrels, and several species of bats reside at the park. Eastern and red-sided garter snakes, northern red-bellied snakes, and northern brown snakes are found in the park. Reptiles include the western painted and snapping turtles. Leopard and wood frogs, and eastern tiger salamanders reside in the park.
The park is considered one of the many good birding spots in southern Minnesota, especially during spring and fall migration. Birds of prey including the American kestrel, marsh hawk, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, great horned owl, and bald eagle are regular visitors. Shore and wading birds reported include the common egret, great blue heron, American bittern, sora and Virginia rail. Wood duck, mallard, blue-winged tea, and Canada goose are commonly seen. Songbirds include the indigo bunting, eastern bluebird, rose-breasted grosbeak, northern oriole and eastern wood pewee.
Long before European settlers arrived, seasonal, and possibly year-round Indian villages were numerous around area lakes. Evidence of human occupation of the area dates back over 9,000 years and encompasses all four identified cultural periods (Big Game Hunters, Hunter/Gatherers, Horticulturalists and Potters, Village Dwellers and Farmers, and Euro-American Contact). Most of this evidence comes in the form of artifacts, including projectile points, axes, other hand-worked stone tools, and pieces of pottery.
Today, most of what we know about these early people is what can be discovered by examination of their tools and occupation sites. The Owen Johnson Artifact Collection is one of the largest in the state and is available for research. The collection is not available for public viewing at this time. These locally found artifacts are treasures to assess how the early people of this area lived.
The rolling hills, shallow lakes, and marshes of the park were formed as the last major glacier retreated from Minnesota over 10,000 years ago. The glacial features found here include moraines, an ice block lake and an esker. Moraines are made up of irregular deposits of unsorted sand, gravel and other rock debris left by retreating glaciers.
As the glacier retreated, a huge block of ice was deposited. It melted behind the moraine and formed Albert Lea Lake. Today, the lake has a surface area of 2,600 acres and over 20 miles of shoreline. An esker - a winding ridge of stratified sands and gravel - is located at the north end of the park.
Enjoy the numerous types of natural communities: oak savanna, wetlands, northern hardwood forests, grasslands, and restored prairie. Oak savanna is a prairie interspersed with bur oak trees and groves. Typical prairie grasses include big and little bluestem, side-oats grama, porcupine, Indian, and switch grasses. Flowering plants include lead plant, rattlesnake master, prairie clover, prairie smoke, bottle gentian, blazing star, black-eyed susan, and numerous coneflowers. Oak savanna was the dominant community in this landscape prior to European settlement and farming of the area. An attempt is being made to restore the oak savanna.
The northern hardwood forest on the Big Island is typified by maple, basswood, ash, elm, ironwood and red oak trees. Flowering plants on the Island include spring beauty, bloodroot, hepatica, dutchman's breeches, ginger and trout lily. Because of Albert Lea Lake, the Big Island was protected from fires that swept over the area in past years.
Wetland plant communities once found throughout the park are being restored. Most are found in prairie areas. Wetlands provide habitat for migratory waterfowl. Park staff and the local community are working hard to preserve the original habitat by using controlled burning of the prairie and seeding programs. Wetland rehabilitation is being done by removing old farm tiles, diking low areas and installing structures to control water levels.