Turning Over a New Leaf at Pig's Eye

Dan Wattenhofer, Urban Forestry Specialist, Mississippi Park Connection Located at the mouth of Battle Creek, Pig's Eye Lake lies at the heart of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Pig's Eye has a very storied history, from 1956 to 1972 it served as a dump, accepting waste from communities, businesses, and industry. In 1989 it was declared a superfund site and remediation efforts began in 1999.

While the odd rusted barrel can still occasionally be observed, Pig's Eye currently supports a wide variety of life. Deer, turkey, beaver, heron, snakes, and even turtles can all be seen roaming the grassland that now occupies much of the area where the dump once stood. There is certainly much still to be done to make Pig's Eye the healthy ecosystem that it may have been hundreds of years ago, but we’re taking steps in the right direction.

As part of our Plant For the Future initiative, we’ve been partnering with the City of Saint Paul to establish an experimental plot where we can trial and observe new tree species native to ranges outside Minnesota’s borders. As our forests alter as a result of climate change and invasive pests, we must look to see both what Minnesota’s forests may look like in the future, and what sorts of trees may thrive there. When many hear of bald cypress or tupelo, images of the Mississippi Delta or Van Morrison may come to mind. But both are being trialed at our plot at Pig's Eye to see how they interact with local fauna, and our famed Minnesota winters.

Experimental tree plot at Pig's Eye

In their native ranges, these trees occupy much of the same ecosystems where we in Minnesota will be losing our native ash trees to emerald ash borer. Our hope is that these trees will thrive in the areas where the ash once stood; areas that may otherwise swamp out and convert to very wet meadow or swamp. Using these neo-native trees would maintain the benefits riparian trees have to ecosystems, local hydrology, and visitors to our park.

Pig's Eye has a long relationship with its surrounding environment, and little of that is positive, but perhaps it can now turn over a new leaf in being the epicenter of research that can help us learn how to adapt to our changing climate. If we are to retain our healthy, verdant forests , we must start working now to build resiliency in the face of climate change. Our riparian forests provide us with so many benefits, and it will be up to us to ensure that the trees will be around for generations to come.