The land that would become the McKnight prairie was purchased by Carleton in the late 1960s. Surrounded by agriculture, this land contained hilltops that had never been plowed, though they had been grazed by cows and sheep, and thus several native prairie species still remained on the property. Since its purchase, the land has been restored and managed through seeding and planting of native prairie species, as well as a prescribed burn regime.
The McKnight prairie is designated by the Nature Conservancy as a Minnesota Natural Area, and is protected through a conservation easement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This allows for increased preservation and protection of the prairie while still allowing it to be used by the college as an outdoor classroom. The McKnight prairie is used by the college as an educational site for departments such as biology and geology and for professors from Carleton and St. Olaf for research. It also serves as a creative muse for the benefit of classes such as Nature Writing, Field Drawing, and Advanced Photography.
Learn more about the history, restoration and conservation of the McKnight prairie in an article by Maddie Reynolds ’14.
Photo credit: Scott Weber ’82