Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Guide to Minnesota's Scientific & Natural Areas

Book Review

A Guide to Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas, by the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, 1999.

I found this book invaluable on my explorations of SNAs this summer. It is not only a guidebook, but an advanced course in Minnesota's biomes and geology. The book is divided into three sections, corresponding with the three major biomes, and each of the many ecological subsections are described in academic detail. I would recommend it to both novice and master naturalists. Whether your focus in exploring SNAs is on flora, fauna, geology, or ecosystems in general, this book has the information you need. Reading it will also give you an understanding of the state's geological history. What WAS here, and what is here now.

The book gives directions to all the SNAs, using the nearest towns as reference points, and does so using mileage. For instance, "go one mile down this road, two miles down that road," etc. I drove past sites many times because of this, since a mile is nothing in a car going down the highway after driving hundreds. I suspect that some of these distances refer to the border of the site, rather than to access points and parking areas. Therein lies a minor problem, which could be updated in a revised edition.

One disappointing experience with this came when exploring the Gneiss Outcrops SNA. It is a fairly large prairie site with no trails. I had read Worlds Within a World: Reflections on Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area Preserves by Paul Gruchow, who described an amazing lake in this SNA. After hours of exploring, I never found it. Nevertheless, Gneiss Outcrops is an enchanting place, and well worthwhile. The Guide needs better directions for within sites, especially when there are no trails. Those included in the current edition can be vague.

Part of the adventure in exploring these areas is that entrances and trails may not exist. If you wear boots, and can identify poison ivy, you'll be fine.

As mentioned in my previous post, the map of Pelican Lake was horribly vague. It mentions that Big Island is only accessible by boat, but when actually traversing the water, it would be nice to have an accurate map showing all the islands. There were dozens, and it only shows two!

The Guide is bound with a plastic spiral, a la Kinko's, which seems cheap, but is extremely handy for field use. The pages are thick cardstock. My biggest criticism is that the cover is made from the same stock (something durable and waterproof would be great), with this annoying extra "flap" that's connected to the back cover, and folds over the whole outside of the book. I attempted to fold it inside, and it ended up sticking out half an inch beyond all the other pages. I should have cut it off, knowing now that I'd never use that outer cover again. Design issues.

Included in the book is a seperate fold-out map of the state, showing all the SNAs, which fits in a pocket in the back. This was indespensible in planning my project, where I visited several SNAs on each trip, and had to chart which campgrounds were nearby.

All in all, the book is essential, but could be made much more useful with additional field research and an updated edition. Hey, if the DNR wants to pay me a couple years' salary, I'll do it!

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