Preserving area's natural resources

OLIVIA -- By next July, it should be possible to walk alongside the south side of the Minnesota River from the bridge in Morton to the mouth of the Redwood River, a distance of more than seven river miles, and never leave public land.

OLIVIA -- By next July, it should be possible to walk alongside the south side of the Minnesota River from the bridge in Morton to the mouth of the Redwood River, a distance of more than seven river miles, and never leave public land.

It's the start of one of the region's first "green corridors.'' The corridor of adjoining prairie, granite rock outcrops and river bottom woodlands is being developed along the river between Renville and Redwood counties.

Along with its obvious benefits to wildlife, the green corridor is part of a broader vision to make the river corridor between the two counties an outdoor and tourism destination known as "Tatanka Bluffs.''

It's all about enhancing the quality of life for area residents, growing the region's tourism industry, and preserving the unique natural resources of the river valley, according to Vicki Phillips, one of the organizers for Tatanka Bluffs. The group of volunteers met Oct. 13 in Olivia as part of an effort now one year in the making.

Tatanka, the Native American word for bison, also helps represent the Dakota heritage in the region, and the important history that can be discovered here.


Many pieces of the puzzle are coming together to make Tatanka Bluffs possible, according to Loran Kaardal of Redwood Falls, who co-chaired the meeting with Phillips.

One of the first steps is the development of a green corridor that will provide access to the river corridor and protect its natural resources. Kaardal said the existing corridor of state wildlife and public lands is complemented by private lands kept in pasture. The mix of wild grasslands and pasture help provide habit for a variety of wildlife, which also offers recreational opportunities from birding to hunting.

Kaardal said he'd like to see the corridor of conservation lands expand through public and private ownership to someday extend from the Gold Mine bridge to Morton. He said many people already recognize that this river valley area is a "recreational area second to none.'' With the right steps, it could also become a destination that would enhance the economy of the area as well.

Kaardal, an avid outdoorsman, would especially like to see more hunting opportunities created. He believes there are many assets to develop. He floated ideas ranging from offering late season archery hunts on public lands such as the Renville County parks, to promoting the fast-growing wild turkey population in the river valley.

Kaardal also sees opportunities for river valley activities ranging from the relatively new sport of geo-caching to more traditional endeavors, like river camping and canoeing.

Chris Hettig, Renville County economic development director, said the Renville County parks commission is looking at how it can meet the growing interest in canoe camping along the river. She said commission members are now soliciting input on ideas of how to develop canoe campsites in the county's parks along the river.

For those who prefer to stay high and dry, there are efforts to develop recreational trails through the region.

Phillips said work continues on developing a plan for the Minnesota River Trail that is proposed to eventually follow the river from Ortonville to LeSueur. There are trail plans in the works to connect Appleton to Milan. Renville County residents are working on a Prairie View trail. It would connect communities in the county and possibly someday connect to the Minnesota River Valley Trail.


All of the efforts depend on protecting the area's natural resources, especially the unique aspects such as the granite outcrops and unbroken, river bluff scenery that remains in much of this area.

To that end, the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District is proposing a hybrid of the Re-Invest In Minnesota program that would be designed to help landowners protect the valley's granite outcrops. Tom Kalahar and Jeff Kjorness of the Renville County SWCD office are working to put together a funding request to the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Kalahar said they would like to see a pilot project that would offer landowners compensation for protecting the outcrops from hard rock mining. He said the idea would to offer easements that retain as many rights as possible for landowners, while also assuring that the unique beauty of the rock outcrops is preserved for the future.

Efforts to protect natural resources and improve water quality are top priorities for the LCCMR, Senator Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, told Tatanka Bluffs members in Olivia. Frederickson is a member of the LCCMR commission. He encouraged the group to move forward with its plans for protecting the river bluff country resources.

Phillips said it's apparent from the success of trail developments elsewhere in the state that there is a great deal of potential for this area -- if the trails can be developed. She noted that currently, Southwest Minnesota is the only region of the state without a state-funded bicycle trail.

Kaardal and Phillips both emphasized that their goal now is to bring more players to the table, from snowmobile and off-highway vehicle groups to organizations like Pheasants Forever. The interest and the natural resources are there, said Kaardal, explaining that now it's a matter of putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together.

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