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Master Plan: Comprehensive Plan - Consultant Recommendations

Natural Resources and Open Space

Below is a list of recommended natural areas for protection as provided by Bonestroo staff. The list below is based on current knowledge of natural areas in the county and provides specific examples of geographic locations. These recommendations are presented in priority order.

Rum River Falls Area – Granite Ledge Township

This area provides an opportunity to protect a number of interesting features in a single property, including granite outcrops, oak forest, and a falls area on the Rum River. Although some natural areas in this vicinity have been logged and/or grazed in the past, they still appear to have good potential for maintaining or improving their quality with a minimal amount of active intervention.

Because of the threat of development in this area of the county and the combination of interesting features present, this area represents perhaps the most significant opportunity to protect natural features in the county. Additional insight is offered on this recommendation in the implementation section that follows.

Thielen Prairie and Surrounding Landscape

This mesic prairie and the surrounding pastures are found in and around Sections 22 and 23 of Minden Township. Thielen prairie itself is the only mesic prairie documented by the MN DNR County Biological Survey in Benton County and supports a population of the State-Endangered Tubercled-rein orchid. Importantly, it occurs as part of a larger landscape that includes interconnected pastures of similar character.

Aside from Thielen Prairie, most of the other pastures are dominated by nonnative cool season grass in savanna-like settings, with wet meadows interspersed. These pastures appear to be well managed as of 2002. Minor adjustments in future management have great potential to not only restore the prairie, but increase forage production as well.

Stewarding partners for this prairie and pasture complex may include the Soil and Water Conservation District staff, prairie ecologists, and others. Potential tools for protection include Prairie Tax Exemption, conservation easements, and other similar tools, and perhaps outright purchase if a landowner is willing.

Natural Areas in the Zuleger Creek and Little Rock Creek Watersheds

There are a number of good- to excellent-quality natural areas mapped by the MN DNR MCBS in the Zuleger Creek and Little Rock Creek watersheds. Many of these are located on the north side of Little Rock Lake and along the creek corridor itself. The Zuleger Creek watershed hosts dry prairie, oak savanna. The Little Rock Creek watershed supports oak forest, black ash swamp, wet meadow/shrub swamp and several other natural community types.

In addition, wise management of the natural areas in the Zuleger Creek watershed, along with identifying problematic areas in the hydrology of the watershed can help to reduce erosion along the lower reaches of the creek and the water quality in Little Rock Lake.

Platte River Corridor

The stretch of the Platte River Valley between Royalton and the Mississippi River hosts a number of high quality natural communities in a relatively narrow valley. The dry soils support quality savanna, prairie, and dry oak forest. Some of these areas were mapped as high quality natural communities by the MN DNR County Biological Survey, while others have a good opportunity for being restored to improved quality. In addition, this area supports a bald eagle nest.

Peace Rock

This feature represents a significant cultural site for the history of the county as well as being an interesting geologic feature. It represents a geographic point of neutrality and meeting place between Native American tribes. Partnering with the landowner to protect and/or interpret this feature will be important. One potential tool for protecting this feature may be assisting the landowner with an easement.

Natural Areas at the Confluence of Mayhew Creek and Elk River

This complex of low-lying ground provides a nice opportunity to protect a large area of interconnected natural areas. Although the natural communities present in this area were not mapped by the MN DNR MCBS, the size of this contiguous habitat represents a significant feature in the county.

Other Opportunities

In addition to these specific locations, there may be other opportunities to protect unique natural features while still in private ownership, or incorporate them into the County Parks system.

Additional opportunities would also be realized if a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) were conducted that supplements the existing MCBS work completed in a relatively small percentage of the total land cover for the county. Such an NRI would provide a more complete picture of where moderate to excellent quality natural areas occur together as complexes.

Other protection opportunities may include land with one or several of the following characteristics:

  • Rare plant and/or animal species
  • High quality natural communities
  • Natural communities with good ecological restoration potential
  • Unique geologic features
  • Natural areas adjacent to existing or proposed parks
  • Sites that buffer development
  • Areas with exceptional vistas

Existing Parks and Facilities

Following are some of the general programming elements used in this planning process to evaluate Benton County's existing parks as well as areas recommended for future parks and facilities.

  • Everything must have a purpose, for example – what is the relationship of the park to its surroundings
  • Design must be for the people, the residents
  • Both function and aesthetics must be satisfied
  • Establish a substantial experience, the effects of lines, forms, textures and colors
  • Establish an appropriate experience, suited to the personality of the site, user, function and scale.
  • Meet the needs for the lowest possible costs, and
  • Provide for supervision ease with the balance of use, both freedom and control, circulation and safety

 

Below is a list of the recommended existing parks and facilities that should have future improvements and expansion as provided by Bonestroo staff.

Benton Beach Park

Benton Beach is a 30-acre park located in section 35 of the Langola Township on the north side of Little Rock Lake. The site encompasses wooded tracts, floodlands, wetlands, Zuleger Creek and shoreline of Little Rock Lake. Existing Facilities include camping, play area, softball field, open space and the Lakeview Center. Additional facilities recommended for development within the park include camping upgrades, restroom upgrades to include shower facility, pedestrian and bicycle trails, upgraded play equipment, splash pad, fishing pier, defined picnic areas, entry feature, native plantings and upgraded shelters.

Mayhew Lake Park

Mayhew Lake Park is a 4.5-acre park located in section 17 of the Mayhew Lake Township. Existing Facilities include public access to Mayhew Lake, picnic tables and grills and portable restrooms. Additional facilities recommended for development within the park include a fishing pier, pedestrian trails, seating areas, defined picnic areas and acquisition of additional land as it becomes available.

Wapicada Village/Mayhew Park

Wapicada Village/Mayhew Park is a 12.5-acre park located in section 25 of Minden Township. State highway 23 is to the south of the park and County State Aid 8 to the north and west. The terrain and location in the Watab Creek floodplain make it difficult to access or develop. An abandoned railroad right-of-way (now privately owned) goes through this property. Facilities recommended for development within this park, (currently there are none), include pedestrian and bicycle trails, picnicking, pedestrian bridge for access, and an area for primitive camping.

The Graves Farm, a recent County acquisition as of August 12, 2002 is talked about in future parks.

Future Parks and Facilities

As the County continues to grow and expand, the existing parks and facilities will fill to capacity. The need for new parks and facilities will become a reality, and the County needs to be proactive. This may include acquiring land before developing parks. Planning for the future now, based on information received in the master plan process, will help preserve Benton County's "quality of life."

They are:

  • The Graves Property, 289 acres, located in section 4 of the Watab Township on the east side of the Mississippi adjacent to a 220-acre wildlife refuge. The proposed Graves Park has many possibilities that could include habitat restoration to the original Anoka sand plain, historic preservation, maintain the existing natural areas, provide pedestrian trails with interpretive markers, and scenic overlooks just to mention a few.
  • Develop Mayhew Regional Park, location in Minden Township. The potential for establishing park and facilities exists here as a cooperative project with the City of Sauk Rapids and Sauk Rapids School District. If this becomes a joint project the park would mix active and passive recreation uses. Proposed facilities for the site from a County perspective could include pedestrian trails, open space areas, play equipment, picnic areas, and outdoor classroom areas.
  • Donovan Lake Area, location in the Minden Township. The potential for establishing both Park and Open Space exists here and could be a cooperative project with the City of St. Cloud annex. Proposed facilities could include pedestrian trails, open space areas, play equipment and picnic areas.

 

Other park areas to consider are, (in no priority ranking)

  • Granite Ledge Area - preservation of forest tracts and falls area
  • Harm's Property - 55-acres located in section 16 of the Watab Township with approximately 4500 feet of shoreline on the Mississippi River.
  • A park situated east of Foley —could tie into a proposed trail, establish a trailhead park or possibly be located north of Oak Park, just off of Hwy. 23. There exist many possibilities for a park located in the east side of Benton County.

Future Trails and Connectors

This section discusses the need for, purpose and function of additional trails in Benton County. It also outlines the plan for developing a countywide trails system to complement the County's park and open space system. This section addresses only those trails that occur outside parks and natural open spaces.

Need for Trails

While developing the 1999 Benton County Comprehensive Plan, workshops with citizens revealed the desire for a countywide trail system. Subsequently, several goals in the Benton County Comprehensive Plan address the need for trails. Specifically, Policy #4 under Public Facilities Goal #3 is "Explore the development of nature walks and bicycle trails." Also, Goal #5 in the transportation component of the plan states that the County will "Participate in area planning that promotes alternative transportation needs such as rail, transit, bicycle, and walking."

Further, in the 1998 Survey of Public Attitudes Towards Parks and Open Space Issues, 55 percent of residents surveyed said the community "needs more trails for hiking, biking, cross county skiing, and rollerblading."

Purpose and Function of Trails

Trails provide opportunities for recreation, transportation, or both. With a countywide trail system, residents could use trails as non-motorized transportation links for traveling from one part of the County to another, perhaps from home to work or shopping. They could also use them to enjoy the many natural and scenic features of the County, to access parks, or for exercise. Residents could also use trails traversing the County and extending beyond it to access other statewide trail systems. Connections to the statewide trail systems also bring people from other parts of the state through, and to, Benton County and its communities for recreation. These non-resident trail users represent economic opportunities in the form of lodging, dining and other services.

Potential trail users include pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters, cross county skiers, horseback riders, snowmobile riders, and ATV riders. The surface appropriate for a particular trail depends upon the anticipated trail users. For horses, snowmobiles, and ATVs, a turf or aggregate surface trail may be most suitable. On the other hand, a bituminous trail is generally more suitable for hikers, bikers, and in-line skaters.

Different types of trails also have different spatial requirements. For example, according to AASHTO guidelines, the minimum width of a trail that provides for two-way bicycle traffic and allows for pedestrian use is eight feet with two-foot shoulders on each side. Where traffic volumes are higher, a more desirable width for a bike path is 10 feet. For motorized trail users, even greater separation between users traveling in opposite directions is generally recommended, which requires greater overall trail corridor width.

Where feasible, it is preferable to develop off-road trails. An off-road trail is one that is physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier either within the roadway right-of-way or within an independent right-of-way. Trails along natural corridors such as rivers, or through parks and natural areas, are always highly desirable routes because they provide a more scenic experience for the user. Trails within abandoned railroad rights-of-way are also highly desirable because they generally allow users to travel longer distances, visiting a number of destinations along the way.

In cases where funding or right of way is limited, on-road trails, especially for bicyclists, can present a more economical solution. The provision of an on-road bicycle trail can be accomplished by restriping existing roadways or with extra consideration during the design of a new roadway. Similar to a functional classification of roadways, on-road bikeway facilities also have a hierarchy of structure. The following classification helps to define the different facilities available for on-road bicycle trails:

  • Bicycle lanes – One-way bicycle facilities, which travel in the same direction as adjacent vehicle traffic and are striped and signed to distinguish them from adjacent vehicle lanes. Two-way bicycle lanes located on the same side of the roadway tend to promote bike travel against the flow of vehicle traffic. This type of bicycle lane should only be used for short connections when necessary.
  • Shared Lanes – Shared lanes consist of roadways with no special provisions for bicyclists. Shared lanes generally require vehicles to cross the center lane in order to pass bicyclists. These types of lanes are usually not signed and can be used in residential areas that have low traffic volumes and speeds of less than 30-mph.
  • Widened curb, wide outside lanes or shoulders – Located adjacent to the outermost through traffic lane, experienced bicyclists who are not intimidated by high traffic volumes and speeds generally use this type of facility. Average-experienced cyclists may use shoulders depending on the speed and amount of traffic on the adjacent roadway.
  • Local roadways – Typical urban local or collectors can be used as routes for bicyclists and pedestrians. Traffic calming can be implemented to reduce the speed and of motor vehicles.

County Objectives for a Trail System

The County's primary objectives in establishing trails are:

  • To provide connections between the communities within Benton County and the County park system
  • To provide connections between the various parks, open spaces, and other recreation resources in the County park system
  • To provide connections to state trails and regional recreational and natural resources outside of the County for the benefit of County residents.

 

To meet these objectives, the County must have:

  • A framework of policies that serves as the basis for decision making
  • Coordination within the transportation, natural resources, and recreational components of the comprehensive and capital improvement plans
  • Coordination among the various government and private parties involved
  • An implementation plan addressing priorities and funding for both the near and long term

Recommended Trail Features

Trails should include directional and interpretive signage. For example, a trail along the abandoned rail corridor could include signage about the settlement history of the area and the demise of the rail line. A trail along the river could include signage about the river morphology, watersheds and riparian buffers, habitats and inhabitants, or a number of other topics. Specific sites along the trail, such as Peace Rock, should have their own interpretive signage. Trails to or through natural areas could include signs about the features of the natural area and the importance of natural areas for wildlife and conservation purposes.

Acquisition

The County's highest priority for trails should be funding the acquisition and preservation of the trail system plan's proposed trail corridors. Once preferred routes are lost to development, they are difficult or impossible to recover, and secondary routes along the same general corridor are sometimes so undesirable that the trail corridor is no longer worth pursuing.

The County needs to complete preliminary design of specific routings of the trail corridors identified in this plan. With the trail routings developed, the County can begin the process of land acquisition.

The highest priority corridors for acquisition should be:

  • Trail corridor along the abandoned railroad paralleling State Highway 23 from St. Cloud toward Milaca.

 

This corridor represents a significant opportunity for Benton County to create a longer continuous recreational trail connecting points within the County and potentially connecting to statewide trails outside of the County as previously mentioned. The trail corridor would be approximately 23 miles long through Benton County. The original railroad corridor has been lost to private ownership. Therefore, acquisition of segments as they become available and proactively pursuing other segments should be high priority for the County.

  • Trail corridor along the length of the Mississippi River through the County with lookouts at Peace Rock, the new Graves Farm Property, and Pirates Cove.

 

Development of a trail corridor along this major recreational resource, the Mississippi River, will be of great benefit to the citizens of Benton County. Because development pressures will only increase in the western edge of the County and land will become less available, the County's long range planning should include early acquisition of property for a trail corridor along the river, even if development of the trail is delayed for a number of years. This corridor would be approximately 22-24 miles long, depending upon its alignment.

  • Trail corridor connecting Benton Beach Park and the Graves Farm Property.

 

Connecting the County's two largest park resources with one another and the surrounding population centers in the City of Rice and Watab Township would be a significant advantage. This connection could be made either by traveling west along County Road 2 through Rice and then south, or by traveling south along the western edge of Little Rock Lake and then west, possibly under the Highway 10 bridge over the outlet to Little Rock Lake south of 95th Street.

This second option would create a trail approximately six miles long, a portion of which could overlap with the proposed trail along the Mississippi River. The feasibility of a grade-separated crossing under Highway 10 should be studied further.

Development

After trail corridors are acquired, the County can begin the process of developing trail segments within each of those corridors. For budgeting purposes, general development costs for 10' wide w/2' shoulder aggregate trails is $30,000/mile and for bituminous trails is $60,000/mile. Acquisition costs, special costs associated with constructing trails through difficult terrain, bridges and wetland mitigation costs are in addition to the costs shown. Likewise, special features costs, such as interpretive centers or scenic overlooks, are not included in these costs. Special feature costs should be developed during the preliminary design phase for each of the trail corridors identified.

Please refer to Consultant Recommendations for Parks, Natural Areas and Trails on the next page.

Consultant's recommendations