The issue: The Minnesota River Valley is an underused resource with great potential.

Local impact: A plan would help to discover ways to better utilize all the river has to offer.

The Minnesota River is a valuable resource for both Redwood and Renville counties. Yet, it is not being utilized to its fullest potential, especially as it relates to outdoor recreation opportunities.

The river is “being largely ignored by the people who live near it and is virtually unknown to anyone living outside the local area,” wrote Ted Suss of the Redwood County Parks and Trails Commission.

Suss’ thoughts were included in a document the two neighboring counties have been working on for some time related to the Minnesota River – a shared border and important resource. 

That document, known as the Minnesota River Valley Recreation and Conservation Master Plan, has been in the development stage since 2013, and that document is nearing its completion.

When finished, the master plan will serve as a guide for future planning as it relates to the use of the river, especially the 65-mile stretch that runs along the northern border of Redwood County and southern border of Renville County.

One of the final steps in preparation of the master plan document happened June 8 at the Redwood Falls Public Library when officials from Redwood and Renville counties, in conjunction with representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), held an open house providing an opportunity for the public to take a look at the draft of the master plan and then to provide input for the final product.

“We are almost through the draft stage of the master plan,” said Scott Wold, Redwood County Environmental Office director, who has helped coordinate the process of writing the plan.

Wold said more than 20 people came to the open house to share their thoughts, and that input will be included in the draft document.

From there the next step of the process is to present the master plan document to the Redwood and Renville counties boards for approval. He surmised that will be happening relatively soon.

“The county boards will make the decision whether or not to move the master plan forward,” said Wold.

The counties received a grant from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) in the amount of $75,000 to create the master plan, which was used to hire a consulting group that created the comprehensive document.

The local effort is part of a bigger picture plan that the DNR has been directed to develop for the entire Minnesota River Valley corridor.

According to Cathi Fouchi, a DNR natural resource planner, the local master plan will serve as a guide as the entire river valley plan is developed related to everything from recreation and conservation to preservation of history and management of the river’s resources.

“We worked with the counties on this project as part of our bigger picture plan,” said Fouchi, adding the idea is to discover what resources are currently available on and around the river and build on them.

The idea is to develop what is known as a shared landscape where those who enjoy outdoor activities, whether than be fishing or bird watching, can coexist with areas in the river valley corridor that need to be protected.

“We want to work together to make sure we are all on the same page and are moving in the same direction,” said Fouchi.

While the plan process has resulted in many ideas about how to better use the river as a resource, not everyone has expressed support of the plan. Much of the concern has come from those who live and make their livelihood in the valley.

Many of them are concerned about the impact an increased visitor population will have on them and the valley. Some expressed concerns about the impact more people will have on the river itself and the important details of ensuring they understand the difference between public and private land and the importance of leaving the area as nice when they leave as it was when they arrived.

All of those concerns are being included in the plan, said Wold, who added the master plan, if it is approved and moves forward, will be a working document that will continue to change over time.

In addition to the June open house, the process included conducting a survey of the river, and that survey indicated 83 percent of those who participated were familiar with the existing recreation opportunities which are available in the Minnesota River Valley and 93 percent had visited the river at least once in the 12 months prior to their participation in the survey.

The majority of the responses indicated that the visits to the river would most likely take place during the months of May through October, with driving for pleasure, wildlife viewing, hiking, photography and relaxation opportunities as the most common uses.

The survey participants also generally expressed satisfaction with their visits. A total of 382 usable surveys were included in the compilation of information that has been included in the master plan.

According to the draft of the master plan, the vision would be to create a setting that includes nature-based recreation opportunities and allows for increased access to those diverse recreation options.

The ultimate goal is to enhance conservation while promoting tourism in an effort to help strengthen the rural economy all in an effort to help improve quality of life.

“The valley is a place where adventures in nature and history abound,” includes the master plan vision statement.

The biggest challenge for the plan is implementation of the ideas that have been offered and finding the financial resources to make that happen.

Those who developed the plan add that the plan’s implementation will not happen overnight, and it includes a three-phase approach over the next several years to accomplish all of the goals that are included in the plan.

“This plan draws the picture of what people would like to see happen in the Minnesota River,” said Fouchi. “After the plan is approved by the counties and the DNR it will be up to those involved to start painting in the lines.”

A copy of the master plan is available on the master plan Web site at www.mnrivervalleymasterplan.org.

Additional information can also be found at www.dnr.state.mn.us.