Parks and Trails resource management program

controlled burn at a state park


Protecting resources for current and future Minnesotans


You probably know the Parks and Trails Division works to provide Minnesotans with outstanding recreational resources - but did you know we also have dedicated staff protecting the outstanding natural and cultural resources found in these special places?

The state park resource management program was established in the late 1970s after the state legislature passed the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1975. This legislation directed the DNR to protect the rare, natural, scenic, scientific and historic features found in Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.

Today, resource management program staff are dedicated to this important mission, and work tirelessly in forests, prairies and wetlands across the state parks and trails system.

What we do

Important natural and cultural resources on Parks and Trails lands include:

  • More than 300 federal or state endangered, threatened, special concern, and rare species.
  • 80 rare or uncommon native plant communities.
  • 47 historic districts and more than 500 buildings, structures and objects on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Over 600 archaeological and historic cemetery sites.
Protect rare species and their habitats

Venn diagram showing 55% of Minnesota's rare species are found in .5% of landMinnesota state parks and trails have a collectively small footprint on the state's landscape, but provide a disproportionately large space for many of the state's rarest plant and animal species. Because of this, one of our most important priorities is to protect rare species and their habitat.

Since 2018, the Division has averaged over 25 projects each year that specifically benefit rare species. These include: 


Searchable rare species guide

"Bona fide Bison" (2013 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about the Minneopa State Park herd)

Protect water resources and wetlands

State parks and trails contain abundant, high quality water resources and wetlands, that the Division works hard to maintain and improve.

Project examples include:

  • Stabilize erodable shorelines by using native vegetation and proven erosion control techniques.
  • Restore form and function to previously altered or channelized waterways.
  • Create or enhance wetlands where they historically occurred.
  • Restore the hydrology of human-manipulated landscapes.
  • Improve lake and stream vegetation buffers to meet or exceed the requirements of Minnesota's buffer law.
  • Collaborate with project managers, architects and engineers to design facilities and landscapes that minimize runoff into nearby wetlands or water bodies.
  • Control invasive species where they pose a threat to water resources or wetland function.
  • Sandstone Dam removal project at Banning State Park.


Stormwater and shoreline best management practices for public water access sites


Watershed health assessment framework

Conduct prescribed burns

Well-managed burns are used selectively to mimic natural processes and to achieve specific vegetation management goals. Today's resource management program staff recognize the many benefits of prescribed fire in the management of natural areas. Prescribed fire can benefit natural habitats by:

  • bringing a flush of new green growth;
  • stimulating flowering and seed production;
  • helping with invasive species control; and
  • killing the above-ground parts of shrubs and small trees, allowing sun-loving plants and animals to thrive.

When you visit a state park in the spring, be on the lookout for blackened fields or charred tree stumps, shrubs and saplings. These are all telltale signs of a recent controlled burn.


Prescribed fire - Buffalo River State Park

Managing prairies

The benefits of prescribed fire on natural areas (includes video content)

Prescribed fire as a management tool (Firewise)

Control invasive species

Invasive species are considered a leading cause of biodiversity decline across the globe. All our staff do what they can to prevent and minimize the spread of invasive species on land and in the water. 

Resource management program staff provide the leadership and technical guidance on where - and to what level - invasive species control efforts are focused.


Invasive species in Minnesota

Restore prairies, wetlands and forests

Minnesota state parks are directed by statute to "reestablish desirable plants and animals that were formerly indigenous to the park area but are now missing."  This direction is why native plant community restoration is so important to the Parks and Trails Division. Every year, we aim to restore 800 acres, returning disturbed or agricultural lands back to prairies, wetlands and forests.

Native plant community restoration is a long-term, generational commitment. We value this work, and we believe that restoring our natural heritage will benefit all current and future Minnesotans.


Managing tallgrass prairie – Buffalo River State Park

Prairie restoration

Restore Your Shore: a tool for shoreland owners and professionals

"Glendalough" (2015 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about prairie restoration at the state park)

Environmental review

The Parks and Trails Division has two priorities that sometimes compete:

  1. Provide outdoor recreation facilities.
  2. Preserve and perpetuate the exceptional natural and cultural resources found on those same lands.

To succeed, we need to continuously balance both priorities. The resource management program helps by providing technical assistance and reviewing project proposals.

Field reviews help us better understand the potential impacts of a project. Fieldwork activities may include:

  • vegetation assessments;
  • rare plant surveys; and
  • wetland delineations.

Most project reviews result in specific recommendations to avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts to natural and cultural resources. For some project proposals, resource program staff provide technical expertise and leadership during the formal environmental review process. 


DNR Environmental Review program

Cultural resource management

Most people know that the Parks and Trails Division develops recreational areas for people to enjoy, but few know it is just as important for us to preserve Minnesota's cultural resources, including archaeological, historical and cultural sites.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Historical Society cooperate to manage cultural resources on Parks and Trails lands. Before any significant construction project begins, Parks and Trails archaeologists first go to the proposed site and sift painstakingly through the soil, searching for a piece of worked stone, a pottery shard, an old fire hearth...any remnants of past cultures. These remnants provide clues to the land's history. Cultural resource sites reveal evidence of past land use and ways of life.

Today’s cultural resource program staff provide critical expertise in preserving cultural resources, and help the Division tell the stories of the past to visitors.


"Uncovering History in our New Park" (2014 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about archaeological finds around Lake Vermilion)

"Deeper into History" (2010 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about archaeological digs at Fort Ridgely State Park)

"Pieces of the Past" (2006 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about archaeological finds at McCarthy Beach State Park)

Research and monitoring

The Parks and Trails Division supports and encourages most scientific research and monitoring, as long as it avoids resource impacts. Minnesota's state parks are important places to conduct these projects, because: 

  1. Many parks offer easy access for researchers who study rare and uncommon plants, animals and habitats.
  2. Parks can provide stable ecological benchmarks to compare against other research sites.
  3. Public land ownership is secure for decades to come, which makes longer-term research projects possible.

Research and monitoring increases our collective understanding of natural and cultural resources, and often leads to insights that can be used to manage them more effectively in the future.


Conducting research in Minnesota state parks

Permits for scientific research

"State Parks Sleuthing" (2007 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about different kinds of research)

Wetland status and trends monitoring

Ecological monitoring network

Monitoring Minnesota's changing lakes

DNR State Climatology Office

Cooperative groundwater monitoring - interactive map

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