Park naturalists and nature center managers in their own words (edited for length and clarity):

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park (Preston, Minn.)

“Cave opening, formations dripping, visitors touring. Sun warming, ephemerals blooming, wild things stirring. Willing the Root River to stay inside its banks as ice and snow melt, watching bluebells spread a carpet across the bottomlands. This might be the year they ring!”

– Lynne Farmer, naturalist

“Three events really stand out to me: the explosion of spring wildflowers; an invasion of yellow school buses with youngsters excited to see the cave; and smoke rising in the air from prescribed fire activities.”

– Bob Storlie, cave manager

• • •

Houston Nature Center

“I’m still waiting to hear them, but the chorus frogs and spring peepers are a welcome sign. The song of the meadowlarks and the blooming of the pasque flower are also sure signs.”

– Sue Wiegrefe, manager

• • •

Blue Mounds State Park (Luverne)

“Blue Mounds State Park is anticipating the birth of 30 to 40 calves this spring. By mid- or late April you should be able to see our young calves roaming the pastures with their mothers, playing, nursing, and growing fast. Also keep a sharp eye out for prairie grasses and flowers!”

– Amber Brooks, naturalist

• • •

Gooseberry Falls State Park (Two Harbors)

“The roar of the falls can be heard as you exit your vehicle. Next to the falls, the ground shivers as water and ice thunder over. Following the torrent, patches of snow and ice cover the forest floor as you seek where the Gooseberry River meets the great Lake Superior.”

– Carolyn Rock, naturalist

• • •

Wild River State Park (Center City)

“Spring is making its presence known. Ruffed grouse drumming announces their intentions and perhaps an opportunity to see them in courtship display in our oak woods. A recent bear track or two also gives an indication that spring has awakened our winter nappers.”

– Mike Dunker, naturalist

• • •

Lowry Nature Center (Victoria)

“One of my favorite signs is when I see osprey perched on the nesting tower near the Lowry Nature Center entrance road. This is a sure sign that spring has hit a turning point. There is enough open water for the fish hunters to return and begin their nesting process.”

– Allison Neaton, naturalist

• • •

Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park

“The first sign of spring I look for is the flooding of the Mississippi. It’s not a one occurrence thing like the first sighting of a bird, but I love watching for the river to rise, and watching how rapidly it climbs and when it peaks. I love seeing the ferocity of nature in the spring and the mystery of what will be left behind as it abates.”

– Ashley Smith, naturalist

• • •

Itasca State Park (Park Rapids)

“Wisp of warm air over cold snow; earthy scent of soil and decaying leaves; swelling buds on maples and balsam poplar; reddening bark on red-osier dogwood; the flash of pure white as trumpeter swans fly against blue skies; and melodic breeding calls of birds. All meld into the approach of spring.”

– Connie Cox, naturalist

• • •

Lake Carlos State Park (Carlos)

“The sounds of a courting pair of sandhill cranes at dawn and American woodcocks’ “peent” calls at dusk tell us spring is nearly here, but it is the departure of ice from Lake Carlos that truly signals spring. As the deepest lake in the area and one of the deepest in the state, it always seems to be one of the last to be ice-free. With ice-out comes the migration of birds and campers for the season. Spring has finally sprung.”

— Benjamin Eckhoff, naturalist (also at Glendalough and Glacial Lakes)

• • •

Eastman Nature Center (Maple Grove)

“As the ice thaws, I start listening for the alien chatter of wood frogs and the deafening calls of chorus frogs. These small creatures announce to all the world, ‘Spring is here!’ You can learn more about frog calls by listening to the current episodes of ‘The Wandering Naturalist’ podcast.”

— Brandon Baker, naturalist

• • •

River Bend Nature Center (Faribault)

“The trill of red-winged blackbirds, the return of geese, and the flow of sap welcomes students and visitors excited for a spring walk. Migrating birds soar overhead. On the ground, the thundering frog chorus booms and woodland flowers carpet the forest.”

– Breanna Wheeler, executive director

• • •

Afton State Park

“Spring is at Afton State Park when I hear the first birds of the season. This is usually a red-winged blackbird closely followed in days by the eastern bluebird. When I hear the first bluebird sing I smile and I welcome them back as one would a cherished friend.”

— Linda Radimecky, naturalist

• • •

Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center (Hastings)

“Black-capped chickadees switch from winter calls to their ‘sweet-tee’ spring song in attempts to attract mates; great blue herons and turkey vultures return; sandhill cranes rattle; and large oscillating flocks of American white pelicans are seen. Spring ephemerals such as pasque flowers emerge, as do chipmunks and the singing of chorus frogs.”

– Jennifer Vieth, executive director

• • •

Mille Lacs Kathio State Parks (Onamia)

“As the water opens up on Ogechie Lake, more birds are taking advantage of this feeding and resting site. Canada geese and trumpeter swans can be seen and heard from a distance. Various species of ducks are scattered about in small numbers, but hundreds should follow.”

– Erin Fallon, naturalist (also Father Hennepin State Park)

• • •

Dodge Nature Center (West St. Paul)

“At the center, we have a long wetland boardwalk. In the springtime, the brown cattails fill with red-winged blackbirds staking out their nest sites and coupled geese sauntering around on the partly frozen pond.”

– Jared Little, naturalist

• • •

Grand Portage State Park

“Each year, the park springs to life with thundering sound and activity. When an ice shield on Minnesota’s highest waterfall breaks, sound booms through the Pigeon River gorge. The drumming and calling of pileated woodpeckers say they are here to nest. Water, birds and animals are moving.”

– Anna Deschampe, naturalist

 • • •

Jay Cooke State Park (Carlton)

“The chickadees’ and pileated woodpeckers’ calls are one of the first signs of spring. Robins and merlins have returned to Jay Cooke State Park! The St. Louis River is open and free of ice.”

– Carly Hawkinson, naturalist

“Spring to me is noisy. The St. Louis River opens up and you can hear the rushing rapids from far away. Soon after the white-throated sparrow, a bird I associate with the North Woods, comes back and that gives me hope that spring has finally lost its grip.”

– Kristine Hiller, naturalist

• • •

Interstate State Park (Taylors Falls)

“At Interstate State Park, spring begins with the first skunk cabbage flowers near the river and the first turkey vulture soaring above the valley. We know spring is here to stay when the cool circles of the glacial potholes gather enough sun to melt their icy depths.”

– Jenni Webster, naturalist

• • •

Whitewater State Park (Altura)

“I know that spring has returned to Whitewater State Park when we pull the maple syrup taps and I see the foliage of hepaticas and trout lilies poking through the ground in the sugar bush as the sounds of flying sandhill cranes echo overhead.”

– Sara Holger, naturalist

• • •

William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix)

“Standing in the floodplain forest here, I feel the end of winter. The icy surface of the St. Croix River has broken. Chunks of ice slide past. Soon the river will rise and cover the forest floor where I stand. The water announces spring. The snow on the oak savanna fades away, exposing old, bent grasses. Male bluebirds find the bare spots, catching an early bug to supplement their seasonal diet of berries. The males scout our 160 bluebird houses and await the females, who make the final nesting decision.”

– Sean Hoppes, naturalist

• • •

Tamarack Nature Center (White Bear Township)

“Bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, sandhill cranes and woodcock return. Maple sap runs. Pussy willow and aspen bud out. At syrup season’s end, geese stake out nest sites and the first great blue herons appear. We see the first open water, and with it, waterfowl. After that, we can hardly keep up with ‘firsts’ and delight in each new discovery.”

— Anna Newton, naturalist

• • •

Fort Snelling State Park (St. Paul)

“The melting snow and early rain cause rivers to rise. The cardinals and chickadees singing their spring mating and territorial songs as the eagles have already returned to their aeries. Around the water’s edge, Canada geese can be seen walking in pairs looking for a suitable nesting site. Buds of silver maple swell, ready to reveal their newly developed flowers and leaves.”

– Kao Thao, naturalist

• • •

Sibley State Park (New London)

“Signs that spring has sprung at Sibley State Park:

I hear: squawking of sandhill cranes and the hushed rush of melting water.

I see: wood ducks and soon leopard frogs; pasque flowers and yellow marsh marigold waiting to bloom.

I smell: leaves and dirt. I breathe in fresh, warm air.

I know: Spring is here!”

– Kelsey Olson, naturalist (also Monson Lake)

• • •

Minneopa State Park (Mankato)

“At Minneopa, the spring marker has been the breaking up of the ice on the double waterfalls. Instead of a gurgling sound of water flowing through ice, you get a roar from water rushing over and downward into the gorge. Spring also includes the anticipation of the birth of bison calves.”

– Scott R. Kudelka, naturalist

• • •

Tettegouche State Park (Silver Bay)

“In this snowiest region of Minnesota, spring typically ‘arrives’ well before the snow is gone. Tettegouche was the site of the first wild nesting pair of peregrine falcons in the Midwest, post-recovery, and a major spring indicator is the return of falcons to the North Shore.”

– Kurt Mead, naturalist