The Ever-Changing Prairie

By Garrett Genereux, Intern Naturalist

One part of River Bend that I feel is sometimes overlooked is the prairie. The prairie here, although small compared to the forest, has a great diversity of plant species. Not only does the prairie have a variety of plants but it also contains an assortment of animals.

Swallowtail Butterfly on Wild Bergamot

This includes many kinds of insects, deer, 13-lined ground squirrels, several other mammals, and quite a selection of birds. Despite all of that perhaps my favorite part of the prairie is that it is always changing. One week you may take a walk  on the Prairie Loop and notice several beautiful species of grasses and flowers blooming, then two weeks later see a whole new set of plants in bloom.

White-tailed Deer

Showy Goldenrod in bloom

Already this year we have seen lupine, butterfly weed, penstemon, wild parsnip (definitely not my favorite plant), purple coneflower, yarrow, golden alexander, and wild bergamot come and go. Right now we are perhaps in the “peak” blooming season. Currently big bluestem, daisy fleabane, snakeroot, tall bellflower, yellow sweet clover, Indian grass, purple prairie clover, bird’s foot trefoil, prairie coneflower, sage, side oats gamma, white prairie clover, thistle, showy goldenrod, black eyed susan, and rattlesnake master are all in bloom! If you are too busy or would prefer cooler weather to go for a hike do not worry! There are still more blooms to come. In the coming weeks several species of aster, gentian, goldenrod, and round headed bush clover will all come into bloom.

Later in the fall, prairie plants will get ready to scatter their seeds. This is summed up beautifully by American naturalist and photographer Edwin Way Teale:  “For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.”

Another way that the prairie changes is through controlled burns that mimic the fires from pre-settlement times.  These fires burn the grasses and plants to the soil, but do not damage the extensive perennial root systems that native prairie plants have. This has many benefits. For one, it returns essential nutrients to the soil. Another is that the fire removes invasive species who often do not have as deep of a root system compared to the native plants. Lastly, the fire also keeps trees in check in the continuous battle between the forest and the prairie. Here at River Bend we typically burn sections of our prairie every other year. It is likely that we will be burning this upcoming spring!

Purple Prairie Clover blooming

Please come out for a visit and see the prairie! Walking from the Interpretive Center up and around the Prairie Loop will allow you to see most of the prairie that we have here at River Bend Nature Center. Also please check out the informational brochure on prairie plants, so you have a guide for your walk. There is also a display of current blooms with names and color pictures on the backside of a divider just beside our kitchenette in the Interpretive Center. If you wish to learn more about prairie burns, come to our public program on September 15th, from 9:30-10:30 am, aptly titled “Fires on the Prairie.”

Garrett Genereux is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at or 507-332-7151.


Are You Ready to Ramble?

By Barbara Caldwell, Executive Director

31st Annual Ramble 2012Hey all you River Bend fans – I hope you have marked September 29th on your calendars.  Why?  Because that is the date for River Bend Nature Center’s annual fundraising gala – the River Bend Ramble, and you don’t want to miss it!  This is our 31st annual event, and all of the proceeds go to help River Bend continue providing Southeastern Minnesota with great educational programming, great recreation and beautiful habitats.  But to continue our mission to “help people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us” – we need your help.  River Bend is a private non-profit organization and we depend on memberships and donations; because we get no regular funding from the City of Faribault, Rice County, or the State of Minnesota.  The Ramble is our largest fundraiser of the year and provides River Bend with over 10% of our total annual budget.

Example auction item

This beautiful grill was one of the items that was donated by a generous River Bend supporter and then auctioned off at Ramble 2011.

Now, I am sure you want to know more about what happens at Ramble – well the answer is – a lot!  This year we are holding the event at the new National Guard Armory in Faribault (it’s near the airport –  3000 West Airport Drive) and we will be having a wonderful dinner provided by Marlene Gustafson Catering, Boxer’s Bar & Grill will be providing our beverage service, and Hy-Vee is providing the dessert.  As for entertainment, we will have Porchlight with Doug Madow on keyboard and Lucinda Wells on vocals.  During the evening you will have a chance to bid on many, many fantastic silent auction items.  We have something for everyone –sports tickets, home décor, gift certificates, baby items, jewelry, baskets with wine, artwork, and even a rocking moose!  We also have a live auction that is always a lot of fun.  This year we have items such as one facial per month for a year, one massage per month for a year, a bike valued at over $600, a waterscape for indoors or outdoors including installation, a backyard camping family package, and a backyard party package.  We are still adding more items to our auction list, so if you would like to donate an auction item please visit our Ramble donation web page to find out how.  We will also be selling special butterfly suncatchers made from recycled glass to commemorate the event.

Pumpkin-themed Basket

This pumpkin-themed gift basket was one of the many fun baskets available in our silent auction in 2011.

Can’t join us for the event?  You can still help.  This year’s Ramble also features a cash raffle.  The minimum prize is $1,000, and could go as high as $5,000!  The raffle tickets are available now and only cost $10.00 a chance.  The winning ticket will be drawn during the evening of Ramble and you don’t have to be present to win.

Now that you have all the info – I bet you want to know how to get your tickets to this great evening of fun?  Tickets are only $40 each and all you have to do is call us at 507-332-7151 to order your tickets or you can check out our website and order your event tickets online – or – stop by and see us here at River Bend!

Thank you to our great event sponsors: KGP Logistics, Faribault Foods, Harry Brown’s Family Automotive, & 1st United Bank of Faribault.

Barbara Caldwell is the executive director of the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact her at or 507-332-7151.