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Renville Co. considers Morton SNA, history center proposals

Rock outcrops in the Minnesota River Valley are host to plants rare to Minnesota, such as these cacti in bloom. Tribune file photo

OLIVIA -- The Renville County community of Morton could become the launching point for students looking to learn about Minnesota's cultural and natural history.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners heard a request Tuesday for one of the key components in telling some of that history. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is interested in protecting the approximate 15-acre Morton outcrop as a Scientific and Natural Area.

The DNR's Scientific and Natural Areas Program is involved in land protection, management, research and education as part of its mission to preserve ecological diversity -- primarily by establishing these nature preserves designated as Scientific and Natural Areas.

The DNR needs approval from the County Board of commissioners before it can acquire the property, Robert Collett, assistant regional director with the DNR in New Ulm, told the commissioners.

The Morton gneiss outcrop Scientific and Natural Area could become one of the most visited in the state, according to Carl Colwell, current owner of the site and director of the Renville County Historical Site. He told the commissioners that he is part of a nonprofit organization working to develop a Minnesota Valley History Learning Center in Morton.

The center's goal is to allow students to learn about Minnesota history by experiencing it where it took place. The Morton area is ideally located to tell the cultural history of the state: The Lower and Upper Sioux communities, agricultural sites such as the Gilfillan Estate, and many important locations for events in the U.S.-Dakota War are all nearby.

The Morton gneiss outcrop offers a unique opportunity to learn about our natural history. It allows students to step back in time by 3.6 billion years. The granite exposed at the site is among the oldest in the world. The site offers opportunities to learn about Minnesota's glacial history and how the Glacier River Warren carved the Minnesota River Valley, according to Colwell.

The Morton site is also valuable for the 150 to 160 unique and rare plants that survive on the harsh, desert-like environment created by the rock outcrop. Collett said protecting the Morton site is considered very important for the plants it holds.

The commissioners are expected to act on the request at an upcoming meeting.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners will also be deciding in the future whether to apply for Legacy funding to acquire approximately 52 acres of land that would be added to the Beaver Falls County Park.

Mark Erickson, director of environment and community, told the commissioners that the application would also likely seek funding to develop a trail and amenities such as restrooms. He prefers a plan to develop a trail that would be accessible for handicapped persons and families with young children, he told the commissioners.

The project would cost an estimated $210,000 to $250,000, with the county responsible for 25 percent or $50,000 to $60,000 of the total.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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