By Jim Umhoefer
Freeborn County. 3 miles southeast of Albert Lea on County 38. Park exits are marked on both I-35 and I-90, though Exit 11 on I-35 is the easier approach. Highway map index: J-21.
Because of its varied terrain, this park is one of southern Minnesota's prime birding spots. Hiking the Great Marsh Trail in the park's southwestern corner during spring and fall migrations, you'll see white pelicans, Canada geese and a variety of ducks. Shorebirds and waterfowl are common in the park during summer, as well as hawks hunting rodents in the grassy meadows. The park also boasts more than 450 kinds of wildflowers.
The Esker Trail, in the northern end of the park, features part of the area's glacial history. An esker is a long, narrow ridge of coarse gravel deposited by a stream flowing through a tunnel under stagnant ice. As the ice melted, the sinuous streambed remained. The retreating glacier also left ice blocks that formed shallow lakes and marshes as they melted in basins. Albert Lea Lake is one such lake, with an average depth of 3 feet. At one time, the lake was clear and had a sandy bottom. Today it is rich in dissolved nutrients that have reduced the lake's oxygen level, favoring plant life over animal life. The lake still attracts summertime anglers, though, who go after panfish, carp and bullheads. The park has no guarded swimming beach, but there is a municipal pool in Albert Lea. Read more: