Mower SWCD’s drone shows the 104 acres of cropland in Lansing Township being enrolled by the Christianson family into the MN CREP program for permanent native prairie and wetlands.

More permanent prairie planned north of Austin’s Todd Park

MN CREP enrolling 104 acres of cropland along new trout stream

Oct. 19, 2020 — Native prairie grasses, flowers and trees soon will permanently cover 104 acres of cropland along Wolf Creek just upstream from Austin’s Todd Park, where rainbow trout were stocked earlier this year.

The Christianson family and Mower Soil & Water Conservation District have finalized an easement with the MN CREP state-federal program to restore cropland in Lansing Township to native prairie and wetlands. The family has worked with Mower SWCD to enroll the land tucked between Mower County Road 16 and Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek’s corridor of conservation leading down to Austin’s Todd Park.

Permanently restoring the land — an area the size of 79 football fields — will improve water quality and wildlife habitat through conservation easements that keep the land under private ownership, said James Fett, a Mower SWCD district technician who oversees MN CREP enrollments in Mower County.

“We’re really grateful to the Christiansons for their willingness to learn more about MN CREP and move forward with enrolling cropland,” Fett said. “Any MN CREP signup is great for conservation but this is extra exciting given how close it is to another recent signup and Wolf Creek’s new trout fishery.”

In March 2020, Steve and Diane Persinger finalized with Mower SWCD an agreement to enroll their 100-acre parcel in MN CREP, which borders the Christianson land to the south.

The Persinger parcel — also private property — is on both sides of Wolf Creek, just upstream from where it flows into Todd Park — Austin’s largest park on the city’s northeast edge. This summer, crews worked on the Persinger parcel to create wetlands and seed the land for native prairie.

Crews work Aug. 24, 2020, to create wetlands and seed native prairie on part of the 100 acres of former cropland enrolled in MN CREP earlier this year by Steve & Diane Persinger.

Together with the Christianson parcel, the 204 acres of future, permanent prairie and wetlands will help protect water quality and reduce flooding of Wolf Creek, a tributary of the Cedar River State Water Trail, Fett said.

Wolf Creek experienced a busy year of shoreline anglers at Todd Park seeking to reel in some of the 900 rainbow trout stocked in the stream this spring by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries division from Waterville.

It’s part of a new “catch-and-take” fishery that ended its season in September; DNR plans to stock a similar number of rainbow trout in spring 2021 in Wolf Creek.

Mower SWCD’s James Fett with a rainbow trout caught in April in Wolf Creek.

Fett also is connected with the Wolf Creek trout fishery. He made a request in 2019 to the DNR to consider stocking trout in Wolf, which he measured in 2017 and 2018 for water-temperature data at an unshaded part of the stream in Todd Park.

Wolf Creek now is Mower County’s only stream stocked by DNR for trout.

As for MN CREP, Mower County now has seven finalized easements through program, totaling about 347 acres of marginal cropland put into permanent restoration for native prairie and wetlands. About 331 of those acres are in the Cedar River Watershed.

Created in 2017, MN CREP is a voluntary program focused on marginal cropland that is flood-prone or erosive. It aims to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres across 54 southern and western Minnesota counties, including Mower, by using vegetative buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection.

Landowners accepted into MN CREP enroll in the federal USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for 14 to 15 years. At the same time, the land is put into a permanent conservation easement through the state’s Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM).

Mower SWCD works on MN CREP enrollments with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) along with the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR).

MN CREP pays landowners $7,000 to $8,000 per acre and covers all costs for restoring the land.

Typically, MN CREP restorations involve restoring hydrology through tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tiles, among other practices. The site is seeded with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. That also prevents erosion and filters surface and ground water.

Mower County landowners interested in MN CREP should contact James Fett, Mower SWCD, at 507–434–2603, ext. 5, or by email at james.fett@mowerswcd.org.

Aerial view from spring 2020 of Austin’s Todd Park, where Wolf Creek has been stocked with rainbow trout by the Minnesota DNR.

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Cedar River Watershed District

Cedar River Watershed District

Formed in 2007, CRWD works to reduce flooding and improve water quality on the Cedar River State Water Trail and its tributaries in southern Minnesota.