Natural and scenic area grant program

image of Rapidan County Park, Blue Earth County

In the early 1990s the Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recognized a growing interest on the part of local governments to acquire and protect natural and scenic areas of local significance. These were areas that may not qualify for the state Scientific and Natural Area program, but still represented significant opportunities to protect native plant and animal habitat, shore lands, interesting geological formations, scenic vistas and other natural amenities. Many communities, however, needed state assistance to help with the cost of acquisition. It was recognized that while these areas would be owned and administered by local governments, the state interest would also be served by accelerating protection of these resource areas before they were lost to development or inappropriate uses.

In 1994 the Legislature appropriated $500,000 to initiate the program. The DNR developed a competitive grant program to award matching grants for up to 50% of the appraised value of the land. The grants are available to cities, counties, townships and school districts. In exchange for the grant, the recipients agree to operate and maintain the areas and keep them as natural and scenic areas in perpetuity. The areas are open to the public for compatible outdoor recreation, scientific or educational uses.

image of Mississippi River Overlook, City of BaxterIn the first decade of the program over fifty grants were made totaling over $8 million. The total area acquired was 1,712 acres. The projects range in size from less than one acre along the famous harbor in Grand Marais to a 174-acre scenic easement along designated trout streams in Winona County. Other examples include scenic shoreline along Lake Superior, scenic bluffland in St. Paul and the historical/cultural site of Pilot Knob in Mendota Heights; a trout stream and maple/basswood forest in Detroit Lakes; native prairie remnants in Mower County; granite formations and historic quarries in St. Cloud; an esker in Isanti County; an island in lake Pokegama in Itasca County; a waterfall in Nicollet County and several suburban natural areas.

Acquisition of these areas has helped protect rare plant and animal species, helped buffer or connect to other existing natural areas or parks, provided environmental education opportunities, provided nature based outdoor recreation opportunities, protected scenic vistas and viewsheds and enhanced the efforts of the DNR to protect the state’s natural resources for future generations. For more information on projects funded through this program see the Natural and Scenic Area grant history pdf.