Parks & Recreation

Land Management

Pollinator Meadows

The City has restored several small areas to pollinator meadows including along the Marten Trail, in Piedmont Park and in Hartley Park. Urban development and pesticide use are causing great stress to pollinator species, so anything we can do to provide habitat in open areas for them will support our larger ecosystem. Once a pollinator garden is planted, continued stewardship including spot spraying or hand pulling weeds/non-natives is necessary for the first few years. The City's Natural Resources Management Program hires contractors to perform this work as funding allows.

After three years of intentional management knocking down weeds to provide space for the natives to grow, the gardens will become somewhat self-sustaining. A common turn of phrase for planting perennial native species is:

  • Year 1 - they sleep, focusing energy on its root system;
  • Year 2 - they creep, continuing to develop a strong root system, and blooming, but at a fraction of their mature size; 
  • Year 3 - they leap, growing to its full size, with robust blooms.

Another way to manage native plants is to use prescribed fire. Information on this project can be found in the following section.

Controlled Burns

Pending improved moisture conditions, the City will be conducting two small, controlled burns in the spring of 2024, in order to improve a couple of our many city-managed pollinator gardens. The gardens that we hope to burn this spring are the Sister Cities Park gardens and a small garden in the Wheeler Field Complex. With such a snow-less winter, the threat of wildfire is higher than it has been in decades, so it is only with an abundance of caution that we would proceed with controlled burns this year. The Duluth Fire Marshall works closely with City staff from several departments to ensure that controlled burns are done in only the safest of conditions. 

In  2023, the City launched its Prescribed Fire Pilot Program, wherein a licensed contractor, in collaboration with many City staff, used controlled burns on three pollinator meadows - two in Hartley Park and one at the western end of Waabizheshikana: The Marten Trail near Spring Street. Native plants responded well to the burning, and invasives were knocked back in these meadows, allowing for improved habitat for pollinators.

Controlled burning, also known as prescribed burns or prescribed fire, is a land management strategy that uses the application of fire to support healthy ecosystems. Controlled burns provide significant benefits to the landscape and have been used as an intentional land management technique for thousands of years. In this case, the goal of the burn is to reduce undesirable and invasive plants in these meadows, such as purple loosestrife and buckthorn, and encourage the re-growth and vitality of native perennials and grasses, such as little bluestem and black-eyed susan.

The exact timing of  burns are unknown until the morning of, as conditions must be ideal and will depend on the temperature, wind speed, and other criteria set forth in a burn plan prepared by the contractor and approved by the Duluth Fire Marshal. Prior to the burn, many steps are initiated including alerting neighboring properties preparing a press release and social media info to post day-of should the burn proceed.

Strategic Public Lands Re-alignment Project

In 2023, the City will acquire over 2,000 acres (approx. 700 parcels) that were once tax-forfeit lands managed by the County. This multi-year project is funded in part by a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant fund from the EPA. Many of these newly-acquired parcels are  already being used for public enjoyment and recreation, such as many tracts in the Lester Park and Piedmont areas. However, as tax forfeit property, these parcels could have been sold at any time. Under City ownership, this acreage will be preserved for recreation, as parks or enlarged parks, and as designated Natural Areas. Many City and County staff have been involved in this project including City Planning, Stormwater, Properties, and Parks & Recreation staff. St. Louis County has also been a dedicated partner in the process.

For more information, visit Chapter 2 of the Natural Resources Management Program Plan, or visit: Strategic Public Lands Re-alignment Project.

Invasive Species Management

The City is on a seemingly never-ending battle with invasive species, and depending on funding and capacity, we do our best to tackle the myriad invasives that threaten our natural areas. Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, Knotweed, Garlic Mustard and Wild Parsnip are the species of most concern to the City and the following activities are underway to try to address them:

  • Save Our Great Lakes Grant 2023/2024: This grant will focus on controlling invasive species, specifically buckthorn and honeysuckle, in Hartley Natural Area and Lower Kingsbury restoration area.
  • CISMA: Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area
  • Duluth Invaders Team: A Volunteer group tasked with helping the City eliminate buckthorn, honeysuckle and other invasive species that threaten the natural ecosystems in the City. The current management of this group is a little bit in flux as of early 2023 as we work through some staff changes.

Forestry Restoration Projects

  • Under-Ash Planting in St. Louis River Coastal Wetlands, Minnesota Land Trust, Partner

The Minnesota Land Trust is restoring forested areas along the St. Louis River Estuary. Follow the link below to read more about this continuing effort.

  • Knowlton Creek Northern White Cedar/Eastern White Pine Forest Management Project, Izaak Walton League, Partner

In 2022, the local  chapter of the Izaak Walton League adopted a forest restoration site along Knowlton Creek to protect water quality and a unique white pine-white cedar forest ​community. The chapter protects seedlings with fencing or other methods, keep out invasive species and generally tends to the area whenever their members have time.