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Master Plan: Introduction

Benton County, one of the nine original counties in the State, was established in 1849. Today, it is a moderate-sized county totaling about 410 square miles. Benton County is located in central Minnesota approximately 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and includes the northeastern part of the St. Cloud metropolitan area. The Mississippi River identifies its western boundary between Stearns County, the counties of Morrison to the north, Mille Lacs to the east and Sherburne to the south comprise its remaining boundaries. Benton County is growing, and because of that growth the County realizes its economy and land use are changing. Agriculture is still the largest land use in the County, but is losing ground to urbanization.

Residents are concerned that their high quality of life may be threatened by uncontrolled growth. Benton County is part of Minnesota’s “Golden Triangle” Growth Corridor – one of the fastest growing areas in the Midwest. In fact, Benton County has grown more than 13 percent in the last 10 years. Most of the rapid residential expansion is occurring in the western region near the Mississippi River, Little Rock Lake area, and the U.S. Highway 10 corridor, and is associated with urban sprawl from the cities of St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell and Rice.

According to the 2000 Census, the population of the county is 34,226. This represents a population increase of 35.9 percent over the last 20 years. Only Sherburne County grew at a faster rate during this same time period. According to state population projections, Benton County will continue to grow at a similar rate, with a population of 47,010 expected in 2020.

Additional census data indicates that the number of established housing units has risen faster than the population, with the average household size actually reducing over time. It is important to note that the number of persons in “group quarters” (multiple housing) has also increased significantly. New construction is competing with open space, parks and trail corridors, and it is the County’s desire to protect some of its unique natural features during this phase of rapid development.

The County completed a Comprehensive Plan in 1999. While drafting the comp plan, residents ranked parks and open space as their third highest concern. It is because of this concern that the County sought to develop a Master Plan for Parks, Trails, and Open Space. According to the Comprehensive Plan, residents placed significant value on developing/ maintaining a high quality of life by preserving Benton County’s rural character and all that traditionally goes with it. The presence of quality parks, trails and open space is recognized as an important component of a perceived quality of life.

This Master Plan for Parks, Trails, and Open Space helps identify areas of the county that should be protected in a park or open space setting, or acquired for future trail corridors. It also examines if and how the County’s existing parks can be improved.