Bison taking "dust baths" to ward off insects.
Wildflowers popping, from tall and flowery white wild indigo to pasture rose.
Crews cutting back wild parsnip, a tall invasive plant sometimes confused for Golden Alexander.
Minneopa Creek struggling in the depth of summer's drought to supply its waterfall.
If you can't be at Minneopa State Park outside Mankato to witness park life in all its forms, that's OK. The happenings at one of Minnesota's oldest state parks come weekly and colorfully in an e-mailed newsletter of photos and words that puts the reader on the ground.
Park naturalist Scott Kudelka sends the newsletter with jottings that reflect the constants of the park, like the popular bison herd, but also the simple notion that the park and its inhabitants are in a constant state of change. The updates capture grunt work like, say, removing woody vegetation from the bison range. But there are transcendent gems, too, with arresting photos of the prairie from the overlook at historic Seppmann Mill.
Kudelka, who ginned up the idea with others when the pandemic shut down naturalist programs, embeds his observations with those of members of Friends of Minneopa State Park who are out and about, and others sent his way. The e-mail goes out to about 500 subscribers. The Friends group has its own quarterly newsletter, too, which goes out to about 200 people. Together they have the park covered.
The weekly update following has snowballed, Kudelka said, as people see things that spark an interest and share the news. The project has deepened him, too, he said. Most remarkable has been the volume of photos sent in, capturing the park in ways that are sometimes even new to him.
"[The newsletter] continually grounds me to the park," Kudelka said.
Kudelka's update is thick with contributions from Tim Pulis, who joined Friends of Minneopa 15 years ago. Within a year, Pulis was editing the group newsletter. Pulis said he thought he'd run out of material when he first took up the publication all those years ago.
"I never have … never have," said Pulis, who turns 70 on Oct. 9. He's become something of a park documentarian and researcher, viewing the Friends newsletter as a valuable reference because of the dearth of records about Minneopa's history. He grew up in Mankato and has grown to know the parkland even more intimately, leaning on his degrees in earth science, anthropology and biology.
Pulis also has a unique window into Minneopa as the park's lead bison ambassador. He anchors himself on Saturdays from April to October at the Seppmann Mill overlook to meet with bison admirers. Last year, he worked 26 consecutive Saturdays, and said about 200 people on average come by during his usual three-hour shift. He's following course this season, too. He said the last two years he has had interplay with as many as 10,000 people.
All the attention on the park has brought Pulis an appreciation for the work involved in keeping up the grounds and, of course, for the history.
"There is hardly a square foot that doesn't have layers of history involved in it," he said, citing as an example the much-photographed Minneopa Falls. Land was acquired to protect the falls and surrounding area in 1905, making Minneopa one of the first state parks.
Linda Engstrom, also a Friend of Minneopa, said the communications like that of Kudelka and Pulis help flesh out the Minneopa story.
"There is much more to Minneopa than the falls and bison, but one needs to get out to enjoy nature," said Engstrom. "Scott has brought many people through his programs. Pictures from many visitors help to bring other perspectives to the park and help to reinforce the cycle and beauty of nature."
Bob Timmons • 612-763-7899
E-mail Scott Kudelka at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to the newsletter.