Natural Resource Manual

The Natural Resource Manual was created to help inform the Comprehensive Plan update, while informing the focus areas discussed throughout the Pillars. This manual provides a snapshot of Stearns County’s diverse natural resources, parks, open spaces, and trails. It also provided a foundation for developing the “natural resource overlay” depicted in the Future Land Use Plan map.

The Natural Resource Manual can be used in the following ways.

When Making Future Land Use Decisions:

Planning decisions are influenced by a variety of entities that have some regulatory or planning authority for natural resources in Stearns County. The Natural Resource Manual identifies some of these roles and responsibility, while providing resources to learn more.

Connecting People to Nature:

Recreation programs, trail corridors, and parks are all part of the natural systems of Stearns County. The Natural Resource Manual provides an inventory and assessment of the existing systems and a framework for Stearns County to follow in order to meet regional needs for recreation and open space, while preserve significant natural resources.

Implementing the Focus Areas:

The focus areas discussed throughout the Comprehensive Plan’s Pillars represent some of the County’s key priorities. Therefore, it is important to note they are not all encompassing when considering the range of environmental concerns and recreational needs facing our future. Stearns County will need to continue to evaluate policies, best practices, and regulations when making informed decisions about the natural environment and how we connect people to these resources.

Aggregate Resources

The following resources and regulations are examples of tools used to help manage and protect Stearns County’s aggregate resources. These tools, and others should be referenced when making planning decisions that impact these resources.

  • Mining Standards: Stearns County’s mining standards can be found in Stearns County Land Use Ordinance #439 Section 7.17
  • Mining (Gravel Operations): New mining operations are required to be permitted by the County or Township depending on their location. There are three types of mining operations or permits (i.e., Existing, pre-ordinance mining operations (POMO), Administrative Mining Permit, and a Interim Use Permit (IUP)).
  • Aggregate Resource Maps: The DNR Interactive Aggregate Resource Mapping website provides information about the distribution of quality aggregate resources for local units of government, citizens, land use planners, private companies and environmental groups.
  • The Stearns County Comprehensive Water Plan (2013) and the Stearns County Geologic Atlas describe in detail the geologic history of Stearns County.


Depth to bedrock is an important consideration in land use planning. It indicates areas that will support agriculture and areas that have development constraints such as rock outcroppings and septic challenges.
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Topography is determined in large part by underlying geology and refined by glaciation and stream erosion. Three major landforms in the County are: hilly lake regions or morainic hills; rolling till plains; and relatively flat outwash plains to the west. Lowest elevation areas tend to follow streams and lake complexes while highest elevation flat areas support agriculture. The prominent hills in the northern and eastern part of the County, created by glacial moraines, provide desirable amenities for developing areas. Development in these hills presents water quality challenges such as protecting soils from erosion (see sidebar) and keeping wooded areas intact.
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There are fourteen general soil classifications in Stearns County detailed in the Stearns County Soil Survey, and grouped generally into outwash plains and glacial till. The outwash plains are associated with shallower depth to bedrock areas while the glacial till is associated with deeper depth to bedrock areas. Soil features that are particularly important to land use planning are erodible and hydric soils. Hydric soils are wet soils. Wet soils are not desirable for development, particularly for structures with basements. Erodible soils tend to be unstable if disturbed for either agriculture or development. Soil erosion has a direct impact on water quality in streams and lakes.
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Natural Areas

The Minnesota County Biological Survey, conducted by the DNR, has identified areas of remaining natural land cover in Stearns County. The remaining natural areas are often located in areas of wet soils, slopes, or other areas that are somewhat unsuitable for agriculture or development. DNR maps can be obtained that indicate the biological significance of the plant communities from a statewide perspective. The natural areas play an important role in the County’s green infrastructure.
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Water Resources

Determined to a great degree by underlying geology and subsequent glaciation, Stearns County rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands define unique subareas of the County. The land use plan areas reflect the varying distribution of water resources in the County. While lakes, rivers and streams provide desirable amenities for development, they are also susceptible to degradation from poorly planned development. The land use plan considers the relationship of development to surface water quality.
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