Hidden gem Tamarack Nature Preserve helps connect locals to their environment.
At close to 70,000 residents in 2019, Woodbury currently ranks as the ninth most populous city in the state. It can be easy to forget that along with all the people who call Woodbury home, the area is also teeming with animal and plant life, much of it flourishing in protected areas like the Tamarack Nature Preserve. “There’s more nature here than people realize,” says Dana Boyle, Woodbury resident and one of the preserve’s environmental stewards. The area encompasses 169 acres of wetland classified as a rich fen, meaning a low and marshy or frequently flooded area of land.
“We have 257 species catalogued,” says Boyle. “Most of those are plants, but we also have reptiles—garter snakes that sun themselves on the boardwalks, painted turtles, chorus frogs, and waterfowl like crazy.” The preserve also sees a variety of migrating birds from Central America, butterflies, owls, and mammals like deer, coyotes and foxes.
As far as plants go, one of the most interesting species is the preserve’s namesake. “The tamarack trees are really special,” says Boyle. The preserve “is considered one of the southern-most stands of naturally occurring tamarack trees in Minnesota. They are deciduous conifers and in the spring they sprout these soft, feathery little green needles.” There are many other plant species in the area as well; Boyle has even spotted a showy orchid.
“You develop this intimate relationship with a place in nature and you can spot new things all the time,” she says. “With the daily practice of going to the same place, you can notice things like the very first marsh marigold of the year.” Boyle first began visiting the preserve about 10 years ago when she got a dog, though she’s lived across the street for more than 20 years.
The preserve is managed by the City of Woodbury in collaboration with the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, but also relies on the volunteer group that Boyle is a member of, the Tamarack Nature Preserve Stewards. Altogether, the six stewards bring a wealth of experience to the projects they work on. Boyle has a Minnesota Master Naturalist certification and fellow members have a Master Water Steward certification and lots of science and business experience.
This year, the volunteer group will work with the city to improve wayfinding signage. They also organize an annual cleanup event and hope to do more activities involving the community in the future. “We would like to involve some [local businesses], and we are working closely with Woodbury Thrives to try and get more senior citizens out to see some of the parks,” says Boyle. The city is also working to make the boardwalks through the preserve more accessible.
“You have the benefit of a wetland that helps to filter toxins from the water, and the trees add oxygen,” says Boyle. She also mentions a recent study in the journal Scientific Reports that found spending roughly two hours each week in nature was associated with good health and wellbeing. “It’s good for everybody,” she says. “For people of all ages and abilities, it’s a chance to decompress and de-stress.”
Though spring and summer are busier seasons, Boyle says the preserve is beautiful year-round. “In late fall, you’re dwarfed by the cattails,” she says. “In wintertime, there are such beautiful winterscapes, and you can see the footprints of the animals out there. There are great horned owls and you can see them in the evening silhouetted against the tops of the tamarack trees.”
Find out more at tamaracknaturepreserve.org and visit the park year-round. Help the preserve catalogue all its species with iNaturalist, a free interactive nature app.