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Bow Watch: Staying Ahead of the Wave in Land Use Planning

Carl Richards - headshot

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what I thought were the most difficult issues facing Lake Superior. After several moments thinking about the input our program receives from scientists, managers, and various people, I began my answer from a generic perspective land use and land use planning.

Land use, although a common issue in many areas of the country, has a special and evolving history in the northland. After a century of logging and mining, the northwoods is becoming a Mecca for vacationers, retirees, urban refugees and hence developers. People involved in land use planning along Minnesota's North Shore are hustling to stay ahead of the new wave; if they don't, they know the area stands to lose valuable aspects of its community, water quality, and landscape.

As I think about how our society interacts with water bodies, be they the small lake outside an aunt's cabin or an immense body of water like Lake Superior, I cannot avoid thinking about our land-bound lives. Many of the critical features of the nearshore zone of the lake and of offshore areas are influenced by what we do within the watersheds that flow to the lake.

Large-scale changes in community-based economics, ecology, and ethology are increasingly apparent within Minnesota's lake-feeding watersheds. In this Seiche, reports on the Cass Lake Superfund site and the State of the Coast 2003 conference speak to this social evolution. As the demographics of our society change through time in response to local and national changes in populations, and as economics change in response to local, regional, and national trends, so do ways in which we use shorelines and watersheds.

Development in the Lake Superior watershed and on the shoreline needs to be consistent with sound principles of stewardship that will maintain the values we have come to expect from Lake Superior and its environment. This is and will continue to be a difficult and complex task. It can only be accomplished if parties with vested interests discuss in good faith a common vision and pathway for getting there.

Ideally, Sea Grant could solve land use and land use planning challenges with one fabulous research and outreach project, but the reality is that this will be an interactive process demanding the collective attention of North Shore politicians, residents, visitors, and developers. For seven years the State of the Coast conferences have been good forums starting many conversations about community planning and a platform for discussing realities and possibilities.

Minnesota Sea Grant is increasingly involved with land use issues. Our staff includes specialists in coastal communities, land use planning, environmental quality, and tourism and recreation; our mission is to enhance the state's coastal environment and economy through high-quality research and public education programs. I invite you to contact Minnesota Sea grant with questions or concerns about watershed-water body relationships. For the next month, consider how the choices you make on land involve and affect water.

Carl Richards' signature
Carl Richards
Minnesota Sea Grant Director

By Carl Richards
July 2003

Return to July 2003 Seiche

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