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Extraordinary nature area near Taylor's Falls now protected

Break out the hiking boots and binoculars! The rare Cooper's hawk won't be edged out by urban sprawl.

A 49-acre bluff site overlooking the St. Croix River valley and Franconia now has the highest level of state protection.

It's open to the public for birding, wildlife watching, viewing wildflowers, hiking and education and scientific research

The area is within a six-mile corridor running from Taylor's Falls to Scandia. It contains a rich diversity of native plant communities, from cliffs and seepage swamps, to prairies and pine forests.

Half of the corridor, primarily floodplain next to the river, is owned by the National Park Service as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

The corridor supports numerous rare species in Minnesota, such as the Cooper's hawk and cerulean warbler.

Located at the edge of a rapidly growing metropolitan region, the area is becoming increasingly vulnerable to over-development, habitat fragmentation, erosion and invasive species.

"Franconia Bluffs will become the 146th designated scientific and natural area in Minnesota," said Peggy Booth of the Department of Natural Resources. "These natural areas are some of the most extraordinary places in the state, assuring that Minnesota's rare habitats and geological features will never be lost."

The Department of Natural Resources, The Trust for Public Land, the National Park Service, and landowners Michael, Cynthia and Kristi Salyards, and Wade Vitalis, a fifth-generation Franconia resident, are partners in the preservation effort.