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DNR may loosen rules for Minnesota Point natural area

DULUTH -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering relaxing rules against berry picking, dog walking and beach access by watercraft at the 18-acre state Scientific and Natural Area on Minnesota Point in Duluth.

The pine-studded, beachfront area, south of the Sky Harbor Airport on the sand isthmus, is a popular spot. But current regulations prohibit several activities common on the sand that separates the harbor from Lake Superior.

The current state SNA designation even makes swimming illegal.

“We’re looking at several locations statewide to see if we should change the rules to allow some (low-impact) activities that are really already going on,” said Cathy Handrick, the DNR’s SNA specialist for the northeast region.

Handrick noted that the same activities are generally legal on city-owned land surrounding the area, such as walking dogs on leashes on the beach and landing boats to go swimming.

“It just makes sense to have the same rules apply” on the state land, if they don’t harm the area, Handrick said.

The DNR also is looking at formally including the Park Point Nature Trail in the area, which existed before the property received official SNA protection in 2002.

Minnesota has 159 Scientific and Natural Areas, encompassing more than 185,000 acres spread across the state, generally areas of unique geology, topography or wildlife habitat. The areas generally allow hiking and low-impact recreation — like bird watching and photography — but don’t allow motorized vehicles, pets off leash or harvesting natural items (rocks, berries, trees, etc.). The DNR does make exceptions for many SNAs to allow deer hunting, and some allow dogs for bird hunting.

The Minnesota Point SNA protects what is a unique native pine forest on beach dunes, rare dune grasses and associated wildlife habitat on the longest freshwater sandbar in the world. Because the main goal of Scientific and Natural Areas is to preserve natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value, they have tighter restrictions on a range of recreational activities.

Handrick noted that the Minnesota Point SNA also has a legally binding conservation easement, held by the Minnesota Land Trust, which prohibits any kind of new trail or building development, or camping, in an effort to protect habitat. Rare birds, such as piping plovers, use the area and may someday nest on the shoreline.