Landscapes become whatever we make them

In almost any situation, ecosystems are influenced by the choices humans make when it comes time to decide how they should be managed.

Since Jan. 1, I’ve been reminded of that both by two of the magazine articles I’ve read and by several subjects that have been part of the Independent’s news pages.

One of the articles that comes to mind tells about the divided opinions on how to create the best possible recreation at California’s Squaw Valley ski resort, which was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The other is a behind the scenes look at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park area south of Cleveland, Ohio.

Squaw Valley was featured by Ski Magazine in a 2017 article highlighting two different visions for its future. One created by resort owners includes substantial lodging expansion and amenities such as a new water park. The other was favored by ski resort purists who wanted unvarnished mountain views along with plenty of powder.

Cuyahoga Valley, by contrast, was featured in Midwest Living for how it remains a traditional rural setting, one that includes more than a dozen sustainable (small and diversified) farms that are allowed to operate within the park boundary. Originally a National Recreation Area, the valley gained national park status in the 1970s. One of the purposes of the status change was to prevent encroachment of urban sprawl.

We have plenty of similar landscape related questions in southwest and west central Minnesota.

At the proposed Bitter Root Wind Farm project site in Fortier Township, Yellow Medicine County, near Canby the many potential benefits from local economic development and added renewable clean energy must be weighed against the potential effect of placing tall wind turbines next to a lake area residential and recreation site.

The goal is to have it both ways. It’s not all that much different from the city of Tracy’s objectives with solar energy, to develop cost friendly use of solar power with little or no impact on the landscape. Solar panel sites in mostly open locations near Tracy Area High School, the Highline Road near the western city limits, and Swift Lake Park on the northeast corner of town show every sign of meeting both sets of standards.

Another multi-faceted planning process has steadily unfolded in eastern Yellow Medicine County. The city of Granite Falls and the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission have a set of long-term objectives aimed at keeping the historic Memorial Park riverside recreation area viable in the 21st century.

Part of the plan involves looking for ways to sustain a regional reputation generated in the early and mid 20th century through park features such as the well-remembered blue beach bathhouse (which was destroyed as a result of repeated flooding) and the park amphitheater (now mostly overgrown with vegetation).

Neither feature will ever be restored to the exact same purpose that was intended when Memorial Park was established. Hopefully, however, it will be possible to create a 21st century recipe for continued success.

As that unfolds, a variety of environmental concerns are likely to be addressed. They include long term changes in the Minnesota River channel, control of invasive plant species such as buckthorn and the protection of historic granite outcroppings.

With any landscape, there’s always a need to maintain the right kind of balance. It’s easier said than done. Often it takes many years of planning and preparation, plus adequate attention to the latest environmentally favorable possibilities, to remain on the right track toward a favorable quality of life.

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