Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA Record of Decision:

In the Matter of the Request to Add a Parking Area and Travel Corridor in the Prairie Smoke Dunes Scientific and Natural Area Norman County, Sundahl Township

12/13/2019: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources determines that construction of a new parking area and travel corridor on the north side of Prairie Smoke Dunes Scientific and Natural Area in Norman County, Minnesota is not authorized.

Information on Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA.


Background and Public Hearing Information

Purpose of Scientific and Natural Areas

  • Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) are exceptional places where native plants and animals flourish; where rare species are protected; and where we can know and study Minnesota's fascinating natural features for research and educational purposes.
  • SNAs are established for their outstanding ecological features, which people may use and enjoy -provided they do not disturb natural features. Examples of activities allowed in SNAs include birdwatching, nature photography, hiking, snow shoeing, and in some SNAs - hunting.

Scientific and Natural Areas Statutes and Rules

  • Minnesota legislation has provided for the creation and establishment of SNAs for the purpose of protecting, and managing lands or waters that possess inherent natural values including soils, waters or sediments, sites of scientific value, habitats of rare or endangered species of plants and animals, places of historic or prehistoric interest and scenic beauty, and areas uniquely suitable for teaching natural history and conservation.
  • The legislation that guides the acquisition and designation in the establishment of SNAs is found in MN Statutes 84.033
  • The legislation that guides the administration of SNAs are established under MN Statutes 86A.05.
  • MN State Legislature established rules governing Scientific and Natural Areas outlined in MN Rules, Chpt. 6136.0100. The purpose of these rules is to provide for the management of SNAs for public use, educational, and research purposes in such a manner and by such means as will leave them conserved for future generations.

Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA was Established to Protect

  • Examples of sand dunes, oak savanna, and oak forest plant communities as well as populations of these rare threatened or endangered plant species: annual skeletonweed (Lygodesmia rostrate), Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides), purple sandgrass (Triplasis purpurea), western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara).
  • Additional rare plants and animals and other native plant communities have been found since the SNA was designated:
    • Plant communities: wet brush prairie, sedge meadows, bur oak-green ash-elm forest, aspen woodlands
    • Rare plants: northern single spike sedge. Notable plants: showy lady slipper, yellow lady slipper.
    • Rare animals: lark sparrow and plains hog-nosed snake.

Ecological Features of Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA - Map

Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA Use History

Pre-Designation/Private ownership: cattle grazing operation, agriculture cropping, hay and CRP.

1994: Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA designated to protect sand dunes, oak savanna, oak forest and threatened and endangered plant species.

~1994: Development of first parking area and public access along 2 miles stretch of township road 310th Ave.

1995: Deer hunting allowed by special permit as needed for population mgmt. (max. 20 hunters).

2008: SNA open to regular deer hunting season without special permit as needed for population mgmt. (all public).

2003-2009: Ongoing conflicts between individual SNA users and neighboring property owners leads to “road” closures on west and north property lines.

2010: Township verifies that north boundary is not a township road. Gate along Hwy 32 is installed with cooperation of adjacent landowners.

2013: Development of second parking area along Hwy 32.

2016: County Board voices concerns about locked gate limiting public access and request that it be opened.

2016-2017: DNR discusses gate issue with Norman County and adjacent landowners.

2017-2018: DNR survey and legal opinion verifies the north “road” ownership is split between DNR and adjacent landowner. Gate is located within MNDOT Right of Way.

Parking Option Requested by Norman County Board

Public Access Enhancement Assessment

Map of all Parking Options

Option 3b - Move gate and develop a new parking area 1/4 mile west of Hwy 32 along northern boundary line. Gate, road, parking area, and fence would be located wholly within SNA boundary.

  • Total approximate cost $16,500
  • Requires amendment to Designation Order
  • Additional Considerations:
    • Gate needs to be moved off MNDOT property regardless of which access project (or none) are allowed.
    • New signage and/or fencing may be desired along surveyed property line regardless of project. Costs not included in estimate above.
    • Existing road has an average width of approximately 16 feet.
    • Existing road surface is currently located on public and private property; this would require shifting the road approximately 5-6 feet (or more) to the south onto the SNA.
    • Adjacent landowners have been accustom to using the current road and fencing/signing. The actual property line will impact their travel on the historical roadbed.
    • May impact some ecological features

Map of Parking Option 3b