Environmental review

Vegetation survey at Glendalough State Park
Conducting a vegetation survey at Glendalough State Park.

The Parks and Trails Division serves the public by providing outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities and facilities while also protecting natural and cultural resources found on those same lands.

Successfully achieving both priorities requires careful planning of any new facilities such as buildings, trails and other amenities. Our natural and cultural resource specialists and other staff determine how to best provide recreational facilities in ways that avoid or minimize negative impacts to natural and cultural resources.

This work is accomplished using an internal environmental review process.

Every year we conduct over one hundred reviews for proposed projects at state parks, state recreation areas, state trails and state public water access sites. The review process begins early on, with a proposed project and location. The project site is then reviewed by natural and cultural resource specialists to determine what is known about the project area.

Some examples of the questions asked about a site include:

  • Are there rare species known to exist in the area, or nearby?
  • Are there important natural communities present, like prairies, wetlands or old growth forests?
  • Is the site within a designated historic district, or does it have historical significance?
  • What is the present and past land-use history at the site?

In many cases, on-site visits are required to discuss the project proposal and further assess the area. Natural and cultural resource surveys are sometimes conducted to determine or verify if significant natural or cultural resources are present.

Throughout the project planning process, our staff are continuously balancing the priorities of recreational use with resource protection.

Once all of the necessary site and project information is gathered and analyzed, recommendations are made to prevent, minimize or mitigate the negative impacts to natural and cultural resources.

The Parks and Trails Division is very proud of the fact that more than 95% of our projects are completed with little or no impact to high quality natural communities, rare natural communities, rare species or cultural resources.



Insect survey at Frontenac State Park.
Insect survey at Frontenac State Park.


Newly constructed picnic shelter at Whitewater State Park.
A newly constructed picnic shelter at Whitewater State Park.


Staff evaluate a potential public water access site.
Staff evaluate a potential public water access site.

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area mountain bike trails

The challenge

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area has become a major mountain biking destination. Trail design and creation requires careful consideration of natural and cultural resources.

Historic mining features - such as pits, shafts, building foundations and railroad grades - contribute to the Cuyuna Iron Range Historic Mining Landscape District. Some parts of the recreation area feature rare plant species, thanks to the unique landscape left behind by past mining activities. Before mining, the network of lakes and rivers served as a shortcut known as the Rabbit River Portage, which provided an alternative to the meandering Mississippi River.

The process

  1. Completed an environmental assessment worksheet before trail design could begin.
  2. Resource staff worked with engineers, recreation area staff and project managers to review trail alignments and adjust for wetlands and other special landscape features.
  3. Plant surveys and archeological investigations were conducted along the alignments, with more adjustments made as needed.
  4. After all the surveys and designs were completed, construction began.
  5. During construction, we paid close attention to what time of year we performed certain activities, and we fenced off areas where additional protection was needed.

This process helped us protect the area's natural and cultural resources while still creating the world-class mountain bike experiences visitors enjoy.

Fenced-off area during review.
Fenced-off area during review.

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