Belle Prairie County Park

Belle Prairie County Park (BPCP) was originally owned by the Belle Prairie Franciscan Sisters and, after changing ownership a few times, became the first county park in Morrison County in 1980. BPCP is 145.3 acres of park land situated along the east bank of the Mississippi River, adjacent to County State Aid Highway 76 (formerly State Highway 371), and serves 16 cities and 30 townships within the county.

BPCP is unique in its balance between the natural landscape and man-made areas of play. It has been a priority of the county, as well as the previous owners, to maintain and protect its distinct ecological features. The park is a convergence of native prairie, virgin white pine stand, oak savanna woodland and floodplain terrace (black ash-silver maple).

Since taking possession of the property, Morrison County has focused on preserving the majority of the park for its high biological diversity along with its geological, historical and archaelogical significance. Projects that control undesirable and invasive species utilizing prairie restoration have been ongoing for many years. Restoration of the oak savanna began in 2013 with Great River Greening conducting outreach to provide the community opportunity to learn more about the park and participate in thinning the woodland and removal of undesirable species.

Located within the floodplain terrace is a site designated as an “area of high cultural-resource sensitivity” with what looks to have been a Native American tool workshop. Many stone fragments of what appear to be from the Archaic Period were found on this significant prehistoric cultural resource.

You can learn more about BPCP on the Morrison County Parks, Trails & Facilities webpage

Information provided by Morrison County Public Works Director Steve Backowski

Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Project

The Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement Project aims to increase access to the river and create additional recreational opportunities.

The Red Lake River Corridor (RLRC) Enhancement Project is striving to create a water trail experience that is second to none in Minnesota and the region. Recent success in funding applications have led to great enthusiasm throughout the region.

The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission recommended funding in 2018 (which was approved at $200,786), and has recommended $1,491,881 for 2019, which awaits approval from the Legislature. The RLRC Enhancement Project also received $20,000 in funding from Northwest Minnesota Foundation for grant writing and purchase of signage for the water trail. Local communities provided matching funds for all of these applications at approximately 25% for each application.

The RLRC project seeks to increase use of the river by residents resulting in better quality of life, better health outcomes and more equitable access to outdoor recreational opportunities. Secondly, the project strives to increase tourism, contributing to the local economies and improving overall economic development in the region. Next, this project will provide better physical accessibility to the river which will expand health and recreation outcomes. And finally, the project will improve stewardship of public lands and waters as a result of strong corridor identity and education.

Through the first two applications, the water trail will see improvements to 12 canoe/kayak access points, including floating piers and kayak launches in some locations. Additionally, two of the major campgrounds along the corridor will be improved by updating facilities and expanding capacity.

The Red Lake River Corridor Enhancement project is governed by a Joint Powers Board including the cities of Thief River Falls, St. Hilaire, Red Lake Falls, Crookston, Fisher and East Grand Forks; Pennington County, Red Lake County and Polk County; and the Red Lake Water Shed District. This work has been made possible through the support of University of Minnesota Extension – NW Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, which has been instrumental in the planning process, convening and grant writing for the Joint Powers Board.

Information provided by Crookston City Administrator Shannon Stassen.

Plum Creek County Park

The park recently received state funding to upgrade its campsites, construct new cabins and bathrooms, and make other improvements.

Redwood County’s Plum Creek County Park was included in the list of funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for 2019. The project selected is a $30,000 improvement to the park’s electrical system in the campground; a total of 16 RV sites will be upgraded from 30 amp to 50 amp service. All 16 sites are available for nightly reservations to the general public. This straight-forward upgrade will be a welcome improvement and will better accommodate the growing needs of RV campers.

This project is a compliment to the Legacy funding received in 2018, when the park was funded for $317,000 worth of projects. This included additional primitive camp sites, six camper cabins, new bathrooms, additional trails and a self-rental kayak station. Implementation of both grants will hopefully be completed in the fall of 2019.

The county is also nearing completion of the new park website, which will include an online reservation and payment system. This upgrade to our reservation system will make reserving sites and collecting payment easier for both the county and the campers. The website should be up and running by the middle of March. Check it out at

Information and photo provided by Redwood County Environmental Director Scott Wold.

North Straight River Parkway

Donors, city staff, elected officials and trail lovers celebrated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the North Straight River Parkway in June 2018.

The North Straight River Parkway in Owatonna held its grand opening in June. Donor families, past and present city staff, elected officials and trail lovers all gathered to celebrate the completion of almost two miles of trail along side of and crossing over the beautiful Straight River. The Parkway contains the Lange Woods Trail and Wildung/Ihlenfeld Trail and connects the Buxton Trail to the 26th Street Trail.

Planning began in 2005 with city staff and the families who donated the land. In 2014, the city was awarded a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Grant for 2017 construction. In 2017, the city was awarded a Minnesota DNR Local Trail Connections Grant. Together, these funded nearly all construction costs. In addition, the Statewide Health Improvement Plan – Steele & Dodge Counties donated a bike repair station and two benches along the trail for users to take a break and enjoy the beauty of nature.

For more information about trails in Owatonna, contact Parks and Recreation at 507-444-2467 or

Information and photos provided by Mary Jo Knudson, recreation superintendent for Owatonna Parks and Recreation.

East Grand Forks Swimming Pool

The city of East Grand Forks was able to renovate its swimming pool with financial assistance from an Outdoor Recreation Grant.

The GMPT recently reached out to our members to ask them to describe how their communities have benefited from state parks and trails grant programs. The information below was provided by East Grand Forks Parks & Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen.

In the summer of 2016, East Grand Forks re-opened its newly renovated Swimming Pool. Prior to this renovation, the pool was nearly all original parts and mechanics from its construction in the 1960s. The renovated pool includes a new flume water slide, climbing wall, water geysers and mushroom spray fountain in the wading pool, and an entirely renovated mechanical room and pump system, as well as a renovated shower house.

In its first summer of operation after the renovation was completed, the pool saw more than 10,500 daily visitors, an increase of almost 6,000 visitors from its last season prior to renovation. The increase in daily attendance, as well as season passes and private parties, saw the pool earn a $20,000 increase in revenues from its final season of operation prior to renovating. Residents have raved about the water features and improved access for people of all ages and abilities.

With the support of the Outdoor Recreation Grant, the East Grand Forks Swimming Pool will undoubtedly be one that its residents will continue to enjoy for years to come!


Rice Park

Willmar’s Rice Park renovation, which will be completed in spring 2018, features a new splash pad and a three-season shelter.

Willmar’s Rice Park takes up a city block (2.24 acres) right in the heart of the city, a block off the main business thoroughfare. For decades, the focal point of this park was a wading pool built in the 1950s with financial assistance from the local JAYCEE service club. With an updated park plan completed in 2015, the ongoing Rice Park renovation is the first major park project in the city of Willmar in decades.

The renovated park will have a splash pad and a three-season shelter. Given the long history of the wading pool at the park, it was important for the community to have access to a free water feature and the splash pad will meet that need. With the removal of two tennis courts and the wading pool, there is much more green space available to the community to use for picnics or recreational activities. The tennis courts that were removed will be replaced in Miller Park about a mile from Rice Park as part of a 2018 park project. Much of the Rice Park renovation was completed this fall, with the exception of the shade structure in the splash pad area and additional landscaping to be completed in the spring.

For more information on Rice Park, visit or contact Steve Brisendine, Director of Community Education & Recreation for the city of Willmar, at

Iron Range OHV State Recreation Area

The Iron Range Off-Highway State Recreation Area offers 36 miles of trails within 1,200 acres. Photo provided by Beth Pierce.

Minnesota’s one-of-a-kind off-highway vehicle (OHV) park has 1,200 acres of varied terrain on the Iron Range, with an additional 3,000 acres in development.

This State Park, located east of Lake Ore-be-gone in Gilbert, contains 36 miles of trails open to all-terrain vehicles, off-road vehicles (Jeeps, etc.), and off highway motorcycles. Trails range from “easy” to “difficult.” Admission is free to licensed machines (non-residents must also have a parks pass).

The park is open daily during daylight hours from May through October, and open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from November November through April. The park is closed during Minnesota firearms deer season.

For more information on the park and nearby accommodations, as well as information on  OHV laws and regulations and safety guidelines, visit the Iron Range State Off-Highway State Recreation Area webpage on the DNR website.


Big Falls Campground

Situated along the Bigfork River, Big Falls Campground has two camping areas that cover nearly 11 acres.

The Big Falls Campground is located in the heart of the wilderness, alongside the natural splendor of the Bigfork River rapids, in the city of Big Falls on Highway 71 North, 30 miles south of the Canadian border.

The two camping areas cover about 11 acres. There are more than 30 miles of locally marked multi-use trails, as well as direct access to the Blue Ox ATV and Bigfork River State Water trails. In addition, there are many miles of unmarked roads and trails for visitors to explore on their own.

Big Falls Campground has one rushing river, with two unique campgrounds. Visitors can relax underneath towering pine trees at its scenic RV and tent campground. Horses are welcome at the riverside horse camp just across the road from the main facility.

Explore the river’s nooks and crannies and all the surrounding wilderness has to offer! Visitors can spend their days hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, birding, ATV or horseback riding … nights around a campfire … and fall asleep to the river’s lullaby.

Visit for more information. If you have questions, please call the city office at 218-276-3300
or send an email to

Robert Ney Regional Park Reserve

Dogsledding is one of the many winter activities to enjoy in Robert Ney Regional Park Reserve. Photo provided by Bob Zimmerman.

Located in Wright County, Robert Ney Regional Park Reserve is combination of marsh and forest that occupies 846 acres and provides varied wildlife habitat.

The site includes a memorial chapel, picnic area, access to Lake Mary with a dock, and nine total miles of trails, including designated trails for hiking, skiing, skijoring and horseback riding. It is also home to the Wright County Parks Environmental Education Center, which hosts a variety of programs throughout the year for families, adults and children.

During the winter months, the Wright County Parks Department offers a variety of winter activities at Ney Park including dogsledding, lantern cross country skiing, snowshoeing and other programs. To see a full list of winter programs and other activities available at Ney Park,  visit the Wright County Parks Department website at

For more information, contact Wright County Park Coordinator Brad Harrington at 763-682-7894 or

Aitkin County Mississippi River Trail

Among the infrastructure upgrades along the Mississippi River Trail was the construction of canoe access with boat slide — the only west bank access within 13 miles.

The Mississippi River Trail in Aitkin County recently underwent extensive infrastructure upgrades at five different location made possible by a $184,000 Legacy grant. Some of the upgrades along this popular biking, walking, canoing and camping destination include:

– Removal of a non-compliant outhouse
– New showerhouse and restroom facilities
– Upgraded electricity to 50amp at sites in Aitkin
– 5 new campsites (two at Aitkin Campground, three at Jacobson Campground)
– Replaced canoe access 7 miles upstream of the city of Aitkin
– Built new canoe access on west bank between Jacobson and Libby Dam on Big Sandy
– Built RV dumpstation at Berglund Campground in Palisade
– Invasive species wash station on recreational trail
– Walking trails with historic logging photos and facts

For more information about the Mississippi River Trail, visit

Thanks to Rich Courtemanche for submitting information on the Mississippi River Trail.

Greenwood Trails

Greenwood Trails

Photo provided by Mark Borseth.

Located in Thief River Falls, Greenwood Trail System encompasses major connecting points and employers (including Digi-Key and Arctic Cat) within the city. In 2013, the city completed a 1.5-mile, 10-foot wide asphalt trail featuring connections to the city campground and nature hiking trails. The project cost approximately $285,000 and was made possible by funding from a Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant, the City of Thief River Falls and other sources.

The trail has been a great addition to Thief River Falls’ community trail system. It is utilized year-round by all types of users, including bicyclists, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiiers. This summer, the city plans to add a three-fourths of a mile addition to connect the trail system to an elementary school.

Thanks to Joe Amundson, Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Thief River Falls, for submitting information  on Greenwood Trails.



E & G Noyes Park and Butterfly Garden

E&G Noyes

Gina Noyes looks over the completed E & G Noyes Park and Butterfly Garden in Fergus Falls.

E & G Noyes Park is located at 1009 Broadway Ave. in Fergus Falls. The 4.3-acre park was donated to the city in 2014 by Gina Noyes, who also donated $50,000 to develop the area. Noyes also has plans to establish an endowment for the park in the future for maintenance and other improvements.

The passive pocket park features an asphalt bike/walking path lined with more than 9,500 native plants representing 29 varieties of flowers and grasses to create a Butterfly Garden. It took more than 50 volunteers spanning four days to plant all the plugs for the garden. The path will connect Broadway Avenue and Fir Avenue, which was a city goal established in a bike trail survey in the 1980s. The remainder of the park will have native flowers and grasses with benches and a covered shelter and picnic table for a rest area. Local residents have also offered to place bird houses in the park to attract a variety of birds. In addition, youth groups have inquired about creating and placing butterfly houses in the park in the spring of 2016.

For more information about the park, please contact Fergus Falls Parks & Recreation Manager Steve Plaza at 218-332-5804 or


North Country National Scenic Trail

The North Country National Scenic Trail, which crosses 11 Minnesota counties, is the longest of America’s National Scentic Trails. Photo credit: Matthew Davis

The North Country National Scenic Trail, which crosses 11 Minnesota counties, is the longest of America’s National Scentic Trails. Photo credit: Matthew Davis

Designated by Congress in 1980, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) is the longest of America’s 11 National Scenic Trails. It is modeled after the world-famous Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails and is administered by the National Park Service (NPS). The non-profit North Country Trail Association (NCTA) works with the NPS to recruit, train, equip and support the volunteers who build, maintain, promote and protect the NCT.

Approximately 800 of the NCT’s 4,600 miles are located in Minnesota. Between the Red River and the Wisconsin border near Jay Cooke State Park, the NCT crosses 11 northern Minnesota counties. Highlights of the NCT’s route across Minnesota include Maplewood State Park, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Itasca State Park, Chippewa National Forest, Superior National Forest (including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along the Kekekabic and Border Route Trails and seven North Shore State Parks) and 40 miles within the City of Duluth (including Canal Park) along the Superior Hiking Trail.

The NCT is most often a simple footpath that is intended to provide a primitive recreation experience linking scenic, cultural and historic features. Volunteers in Minnesota are affiliated with one of five NCTA Chapters or with trail maintaining affiliate partners Superior Hiking Trail Association and Border Route Trail Association. The NPS is currently developing a plan for the route from Maplewood State Park to North Dakota, while the NCTA is trying to develop a new Chapter in the Fergus Falls area to help make that route a reality.

Thanks to Matthew Davis, North Country Trail Association Regional Trail Coordinator for ND & MN, for submitting information on  the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Wagon Wheel Trail

Wagon Wheel Trail

The Wagon Wheel Trail in La Crescent winds along marsh land and borders a national wildlife and fish refuge. Photo by Elizabeth Wefel.

Where is the Wagon Wheel Trail located?
The Wagon Wheel Trail is a rail segment in eastern La Crescent which serves as the portal and future connection to Minnesota’s Root River Trail system and is the present connection to the Mississippi River Trail system. It will eventually be a key link between the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in La Crosse, Wisc. and the Root River Trail which ends in Houston, Minn.

What makes it unique?
The Wagon Wheel Trail borders the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge wetlands area, making it an ideal place to view wildlife. It also has historical significance in that it is located on an original trail used by settlers’ heading west in the 1800s (hence the “Wagon Wheel” name).

What are the plans for its future?
The Wagon Wheel Trail is a three-phase, multi-year project that began in 2007. Phase 1 was completed in 2014, and the city of La Crescent is now focused on Phase 2.  When all phases are complete,  it will provide a safe and reliable multi-use trail (which will include crossings over busy highway segments) for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized recreational users.