Duluth has a lot of natural wealth; beautiful scenery, streams, trails, and wildlife sightings attract residents and visitors throughout the seasons. However, Duluth’s open spaces provide a lot more value than just aesthetics. The ecosystem services that natural spaces provide are also valuable, such as stormwater runoff control to prevent flooding and erosion, and cleaning and filtering our water and air. Natural areas also provide a sanctuary to native plants and animals and contribute to our cultural heritage and resiliency.
With so much depending on these natural areas, the City is lucky to have Diane Desotelle in the role as Natural Resources Coordinator. Diane supports the City’s Duluth Natural Areas Program (DNAP) along with developing programs and policies that support the City’s Imagine 2035 comprehensive plan for open spaces. Created by city ordinance (Chapter 2, Article XXIX), the DNAP designates certain lands with environmental value as permanently protected natural places. Diane works closely with the City and Minnesota Land Trust in obtaining permanent protection status for quality open space city-owned, tax-forfeited land, and at-risk lands. Not every undeveloped area is suitable or qualifies for preservation, so it’s up to City staff to lead a data-driven process to determine the level of ecological significance and provide recommendations to the City.
Nominating a Natural Area isn’t a simple process, and often land restoration is integrated into the required management plan. The City Parks and Recreation and Properties Maintenance divisions perform a variety of tasks to manage lands, including planting trees and natives species, repairing flood damage, controlling invasive plants detrimental to native plant communities, and more. One of Diane’s many responsibilities is to track the timing and implementation of restoration and management activities, to prevent future problems. For example, clearing buckthorn without later replanting the area with native species could lead to a return of buckthorn and continued degraded habitat.
Today there are threeNatural Areas: Magney Snively, Hartley and the St. Louis River Natural Area.. Though all of these areas are protected from development, it is important that the areas are managed for high quality habitat. Informing the public on how to use these areas is critical to prevent future degradation.. An added challenge to keeping our ecological heritage intact is climate change, and therefore, the adaptation of forests must also be considered when selecting tree species for the future.
Individual actions can sometimes be a threat to DNAP areas, including trail-blazing. The habitat destruction and introduction of invasive species from homemade hiking, biking, and ATV trails is very hard to recover from. For this reason, it is important to look for city and state trail markers on a trail or map out your trip ahead of time. If you ever find a new unofficial trail in a protected Natural Area, contact the City of Duluth Parks & Recreation department to report it. Enforcement is understandably difficult, so community involvement is key.
Fortunately, Duluth Parks & Recreation offers many opportunities to get outdoors, be active, and get involved with nature. Learning the true value of natural areas comes from being outside in nature. For a list of official trails please visit https://duluthmn.gov/parks/trails-bikeways/natural-surface-trails/. Parks also offers programs for outdoor physical and educational activities at https://duluthmn.gov/parks/programs-events/general-programs/.
Learn more about DNAP at: https://duluthmn.gov/parks/natural-resources/dnap/