Savage Fen Wetland Complex

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What is the Savage Fen? 

Savage is home to the Savage Fen Wetland Complex, a 441-acre wetland that contains one of the rarest types of wetland plant communities in the United States, a calcareous fen. Calcareous fens exist only where cold groundwater that’s poor in oxygen but rich in calcium and magnesium wells up through thick layers of peat.Owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and designated as a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), the Savage Fen is comprised of 288 acres split between two units in northern Savage. The larger of the two units – Savage Fen West Unit –is comprised of about 50 acres of calcareous fen, which is given special protection under the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act due to its ability to provide a habitat for numerous rare plant and animal species.

What is a Scientific and Natural Area (SNA)?

SNAs are public lands that have been permanently protected to preserve native plant communities, rare species, and geologic features of significance. They are part of the state’s outdoor recreation system, like state parks and state trails, but their specific role is to protect and perpetuate natural features that have scientific and educational value. 

Can I access the Fen?

Yes, the Savage Fen is public land owned by the MN DNR and open for limited low-impact activities like bird and wildlife watching. But visiting the Fen is no “walk in the park.There are no maintained trails, no drinking water and no rest rooms. Visitors should come prepared to find their own path, and be aware that the Fen has extremely rugged terrain and poorly drained peat and muck soil that can be from 18 inches to 3 feet deep. With that in mind, bringing a compass or GPS is highly recommended. Cell phone service may be limited or not exist in some areas. Long pants, sturdy boots and insect repellent are also strongly suggested. Dogs are only allowed on leashes. Before you go, become familiar with the Natural Area rules and guidelines. Complete rules are available at dnr.state.mn.us/snas. Have fun and be safe!

Savage Fen SNA map 

 What is a calcareous fen? 

CalcareousFen

A calcareous fen is a fragile ecosystem that only exists under a unique combination of soil types, hydrology, chemistry and vegetation. They can only occur at the base of slopes or bluffs, where cool mineral-rich groundwater appears as springs and small pools and layers of peat build up, creating a wetland that is spongy and moist. Most plants can’t grow in such conditions; a few such as valerian and the small white lady’s slipper can thrive there.

Why are calcareous fens important?

Calcareous fens are the rarest natural communities in the United States and have only been found in 10 states; about 200 have been identified in Minnesota, most of them only a few acres in size. Fens can take up to 10,000 years to form naturally and support a large number of rare, threatened or endangered plant and animal species. Because they are so uncommon and provide habitat for numerous rare plant species, calcareous fens are given special protection in Minnesota.  

Plant species

More than 200 uncommon and rare plant species have been found in the Savage Fen. The small white lady’s slipper – an orchid related to Minnesota’s state flower – is an example of a unique plant that thrives in calcareous fens, along with gentians, sedges and rare grasses. Other rare plant species found in calcareous fens include:
Anticlea elegans............................................. Death Camas
Carex sterilis .................................................. Sterile Sedge
Chelone glabra....................................................Turtle Head
Cladium mariscoides ............................................ Twig-rush
Cypripedium candidum ....................Small white lady’s slipper
Cypripedium parriflorum......................... Yellow Lady’s Slipper
Eleocharis rostellata ................................. Beaked spike-rush
Fimbristylis puberula ................................... Hairy fimbristylis
Lilium michiganese............................................ Michigan Lily
Parnassia glauca.................................... Grass of Parnassus
Rhynchospora capillacea .................................Fen beak-rush
Scleria verticillata ....................................................Nut-rush
Valeriana edulis ....................................................... Valerian

Birds and wildlife

Minimal human disturbances make the Savage Fen a great place to get out and enjoy a variety of different creatures. Some of the animal species known to visit the Fen include:
• American white pelican
• Bald eagle
• American woodcock
• Ruffled grouse
• Northern rough-winged swallow
• Brown thrasher
• House wren
• Various warblers
• Purple martins
• American toads
• Green and northern leopard frogs
• Dot-tailed whiteface dragonfly
• Monarch butterfly
• Gopher snake

For a complete list of species found at the Fen, go to dnr.state.mn.us/snas.