This part of the manual provides an inventory and assessment of the existing system, contextual information regarding complementary state facilities, and a framework for Stearns County to follow in order to meet regional needs for recreation and open space, and to preserve significant natural resource
The Stearns County Parks Department was established in 1974 and carries the responsibility for acquisition, planning, development, administration, and daily maintenance of over 2,600 acres of parks and trails. It is the operating arm of the Stearns County Park Commission. Parks department staff duties include:
The County’s role in park and recreation planning is regional – it works to meet needs and provide facilities that are broader than those of an individual city or township. The County also plays a key role in coordinating among federal and state agencies and programs, municipal governments, and semi-private or nonprofit organizations such as watershed and lake associations.
Stearns County’s existing system of parks, trails, and open space includes eighteen unique park and recreation facilities, ranging from boat landings to regional trails to significant regional parks
The County system is supplemented by a number of State forests, Scientific and Natural Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas, as well as city parks and trails. Major recreation features in the Stearns County system include the highly used and valued Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Waite Park, and the Lake Wobegon Trail, which stretches east and west across the County.
The Stearns County Park Commission was created by the County Board on October 20, 1970. Its responsibilities are described as follows:
The Parks, Open Space and Recreation Plan chapter is an update to the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, which has its roots in the 1989 Recreation Plan. The 1989 Recreation Plan set the framework for the Stearns County park classification system and standards. The first recreation plan for Stearns County was developed in 1970, and it was comprehensively updated in the mid-1980s. The 1970 plan established the park acreage need of 20 acres of County parkland per 1,000 County residents.
Stearns County has defined its parks facilities using a park classification system, which articulates the diversity and types of recreational uses available within the county (see Table 9.1 and 9.2). Table 9.1 has been revised from the version in the 2008 Comprehensive Plan to align with the existing and potential future park types in the County. The local or municipal park classifications have been removed as cities typically define their own classification standards.
Stearns County’s existing system of parks, trails, and open space includes two (2) signature County recreation facilities, eight (8) County parks and open spaces, three (3) linear parks/greenways/trails, and seven (7) special features. The County system is supplemented by a number of State forests, Scientific and Natural Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas, as well as city parks and trails.
Since the last Comprehensive Plan update, the County system has expanded with the following acquisitions:
Kraemer Lake-Wildwood Park, established in 2007, provides unique recreation and interpretation opportunities including cross-country skiing, hiking, maple syrup production, picnicking and swimming, amidst a high-quality forest landscape. The park has been designated as “Regionally Significant” by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission following development of a master plan in 2016.
Rockville County Park and Nature Preserve was established in late 2006 and early 2007 through the purchase of three major parcels of property. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grants were used to match donations and county bonding funds to establish the park. This parcel is encumbered by a conservation easement held by the Minnesota Land Trust.
The largest parcel, the John and Linda Peck parcel, was donated to the project. Mr. Peck is a volunteer with the Minnesota Land Trust and was the chair of the Stearns County Park Commission. He and his wife, Linda were recognized as Stearns County Volunteers of the Year in 2007 for their commitment to conservation and their donation of property for the new park.
Clearwater River Canoe Access is three parcels with less than an acre of land. The tax forfeited property has been maintained by the Stearns County Parks since 2016. There is access to the Clearwater River which leads into Clearwater Lake.
Lake Wobegon trail expansion from St. Joseph to Waite Park. The trail extended east of St. Joseph during 2017 and 2018 to add 3 miles of paved trail to the system.
Stearns County works closely with other government agencies on protection of natural and recreational resources. Other types of protected open space within the County include:
To rank and prioritize conservation easement acquisition in the Avon Hills ecoregion in partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust. Priority is given to tracts of land that fall under multiple state priority designations for protection and provide the greatest benefit to citizens of Minnesota. Typically, tracts of land that augment or create habitat corridors rank highest. Land in close proximity to already protected habitat is also prioritized.
To assess the potential for wetland and native vegetation restoration using a scoring matrix created by the MN Board of Water and Soil Resources to rank and prioritize applications for MN CREP conservation easements. Priority is given to tracts with greater wetland restoration potential in addition to being near species of conservation concern and near permanently protected habitat.
The following list includes trends that have emerged locally and nationally over the last ten years that serve as potential opportunities for Stearns County. Whether the trends are on the rise or in decline, they are worth noting in this plan as they may affect how Stearns County plans for the future.
Changing climate and an increase in severe weather events globally and nationally has had an impact on our environment and outdoor spaces. It is important to recognize this issue
and plan for future changes in the climate and environment to reduce economic impacts, mitigate where possible, and adapt as necessary.
Some challenges identified in the SCORP include low population growth in Minnesota compared to the rest of the nation, with the majority of the population growth in the state occurring in the metro area, and especially between Rochester and St. Cloud. This concentrated growth in the more densely populated areas of the state compared to low growth in the rural areas correlates with more interest in nature-based activities such as fishing and boating, and less interest in activities such as hunting, snowmobiling, and ATV use.
The Minnesota State Demographer states that recent population growth in Minnesota has been increasingly coming from immigration. “While both the U.S.-born population and foreign-born population have grown since 1970, the foreign-born population has swelled more quickly. Minnesota had about 113,000 foreign-born residents in 1990, but that number had more than quadrupled to about 457,200 residents by 2015.”
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission provides a new funding stream for out-state regional parks and trails by designating State Legacy Funding to be allocated to specific projects. Stearns County has six regionally designated facilities: Kraemer Lake Park, Lake Wobegon Trail, Rockville Park, Quarry Park, Warner Lake Park, and Beaver Island Trail.
Physical and mental health have been recognized as important considerations for parks, trails, and recreation programming with county- wide active living plans and Safe Routes to School (SRTS) investments. With an increase in obesity and mental health issues, regional parks have been tasked with providing facilities and programs that help people lead healthier lives.
Counties are dealing with a variety of demographic changes, such as increasing diversity, an aging population, and smaller households and families. These changes indicate a greater need for parks and recreation providers to be flexible in terms of programs and facilities that they are offering to meet the needs of their residents.
In addition to the above trends, a number of recreation facilities and programs are becoming more popular for regional park agencies to provide in their systems:
COVID-19 was at the forefront of all of our lives during the last several months of developing this Plan. During this time, Stearns County’s park and trail system experienced a large increase in the number of users. Much of the response to COVID is continually evolving and few concrete answers exist to how we will continue to feel impacts in our communities and parks/trail systems.