Duluth Starts Process to Designate St. Louis River Natural Area

Heidi Enninga
January 10, 2017 10:11 PM

The ongoing efforts to improve the St. Louis River corridor could soon see a significant financial boost. 

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A new plan approved by the Duluth City Council on Monday night is seeking a quarter million dollar grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the possibility of creating a city-managed St. Louis River natural area. 

Pending grant approval, the city would begin an 18-month study and public review process to decide whether the city should protect nine different areas along the river: Grassy Point, Kingsbury Bay, Tallus Island Wetlands, Stewart Creek Floodplain, Spirit Lake Bluffs, Spirit Lake Wetlands, Radio Tower Bay, North Bay and Rask Bay. 

"These properties are a small portion of the total St. Louis River corridor but they are unusually important," Jim Filby Williams, Director of Public Administration for the city said."They are uniquely important for the health of the river, and they represent the last substantially intact coastal wetlands on the Minnesota side of the estuary."

All nine areas are already in local government ownership, either by the city or county, but right now, Filby Williams said there is no management plan for them despite their importance. 

"This would simply establish a coherent, conservation-driven management plan for them, so that over time, with federal and state help, we could remove exotic vegetation, we could restore those native grasses, we could work with our tribal partners to help establish wild rice in adjacent waters," Filby Williams said. "We would be replacing a passive approach to the management of these, with a coherent strategic approach."

That's no doubt important to the people who have already made so many of the spots popular for recreation. The city said the designation would not restrict the freedom of boaters and sportsmen to travel and fish where they always have. 

"What the natural area does is enhance the experiences that people have," Filby Williams said. 

A vast majority of the candidate properties are wetlands and bluff that the city has determined have limited or no development value, however they do still have significance for development in the area. 

"Most of these cannot be developed for commercial use, but many of them have small segments that can support a trail or a canoe kayak access." Filby Williams said. "By dedicating these for conservation and public access we're actually stimulating development in adjacent privately-owned areas. 

The ability to leverage outside resources for protect and restore natural areas City Council President Joel Sipress said can only help renew growth along the river corridor, but he also said the city should do its part to restore where industry once took over. 

"Now in a day where we know better how to manage our environmental resources, I think we do have an obligation to try and restore and make up for some of the mistakes of the past, even as we continue to build an economic base for the future," Sipress said. "It's great for recreation, it's great for neighborhoods, it's great for building a stronger community."  

Whether its birders, anglers or cyclists, the city said recreationalists want to experience nature, undisturbed. 

"They're looking for an experience of a restored natural river front and this creates a preserves that experience in perpetuity," Filby Williams said. 

The EPA actually invited the city to apply for this grant, and based on that unusual level of interest, city officials are cautiously optimistic about funding for this process. 


Heidi Enninga

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