49 Acres in Scenic St. Croix River Valley Protected (MN)

Franconia, MN, 6/11/2008: Proudly lugging a large painting, six-year old Peter Vitalis burst from his home to greet a visitor. The painting, Peter explained, showed his great great grandfather as a child along the wooded banks of the St. Croix River near Franconia, having just arrived by boat from Sweden to start his new life in Minnesota.

Now, less than twelve months after young Peter shared that story, a partnership led by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that some of this special land has been protected for the enjoyment of Peter’s great great grandchildren-and everyone else in the state.

Because of the location of the 49-acre property, situated on bluffs overlooking the scenic St. Croix River valley and the village of Franconia in southeast Chisago County, conservationists had worried that it could become developed. The partnership has now ensured that the site will instead be owned and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as the Franconia Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). SNAs provide the highest level of state protection and are open to the public for passive activities such as birding, wildlife watching, viewing wildflowers, hiking, education and scientific research.

“I’ll never forget that little boy showing me that painting,” said Becca Nash of The Trust for Public Land. “He was showing me his heritage with the river at its heart. That’s what it’s all about, to make sure natural areas like that are available for future generations of Minnesotans to enjoy.”

Over the next twenty-five years, Minnesota’s population is projected to grow by about 1.2 million people. This population influx will lead to over 1 million acres of Minnesota land being developed, which is roughly the combined area of Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Carver counties.

The new SNA is within a six-mile corridor running from Taylor’s Falls to Scandia that contains a rich diversity of native plant communities, from cliffs and seepage swamps, to prairies and pine forests. Half of the corridor, primarily floodplain next to the river, is owned by the National Park Service as part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The corridor supports numerous rare species in Minnesota, such as the Coopers Hawk and cerulean warbler. Located at the edge of a rapidly growing metropolitan region, the area is becoming increasingly vulnerable to over-development, habitat fragmentation, erosion and invasive species. Both DNR and TPL are interested in working with willing landowners to conserve other land in the area.

“Franconia Bluffs will become the 146th designated Scientific and Natural Area in Minnesota,” said Peggy Booth, Department of Natural Resources. “These natural areas are the most extraordinary places in the state assuring that Minnesota’s rare habitats and geological features will never be lost.”

TPL partnered with several entities to establish the new SNA, including the DNR, the National Park Service, and landowners Michael, Cynthia, and Kristi Salyards, as well as fifth-generation Franconia resident Wade Vitalis– Peter’s father.

“Those bluffs frame this small community in a unique way, both preserving the sense of place and protecting the Lawrence Creek and St. Croix River. Our family has always had a presence in Franconia and thanks to the Salyards, TPL and the DNR, we know that our experience will live on for generations. And for that we are not only thrilled, but very thankful!” said Vitalis, who played a pivotal role in protecting the land.

Funding for the project was provided by a generous donation from the landowners and through the Metro Conservation Corridors partnership of government and nonprofit organizations focused on protecting natural areas and water quality in the rapidly developing metro region. The Metro Corridors funding came from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) and by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit land-conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for public enjoyment and use. In Minnesota, TPL has protected more than 84,100 acres valued at more than $83 million including the recent protection of Long Island near Ely, an addition to Neenah Creek Regional Park in St. Cloud and the creation of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary in downtown St. Paul. TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state.