How Is the Lower St. Croix Riverway Protected?
In 1972, the Lower St. Croix River became one of our country’s few national Wild and Scenic Rivers. As a result of this unique designation, Minnesota and Wisconsin adopted zoning standards for a strip of land along the St. Croix River’s shores. This Riverway overlay zone consists of building restrictions designed to protect water quality, provide habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife, and maintain a relatively unspoiled view for the millions of visitors drawn to the Riverway.
Our Land program works to preserve the natural beauty of the Lower St. Croix Riverway through partnerships with local governments, landowners, and realtors. Through our education and outreach efforts, we strive to increase awareness of the Riverway regulations and provide helpful resources that encourage consistency and transparency of land-use rules and decisions throughout the River corridor.
Explore the resources below to learn more about the Lower St. Croix Riverway’s protections, overlay zoning, and best practices.
Where Is the Riverway Boundary?
The Riverway Boundary spans 52 miles from Taylor’s Falls/St. Croix Falls to Prescott/Hayward. On average, the boundary extends a quarter-mile out from the river’s edge. However, in some places the boundary is wide, and in other places the boundary can be very narrow.
Explore this map with the GIS layer of the Riverway boundary. Is your home in the Riverway boundary? Are there any scenic easements on your property? If so, make sure to contact the right people to learn more about your property.
What are the Riverway Regulations?
Click through the Landowner’s Guide to the Lower St. Croix Riverway below to learn more about the protections and regulations in the Riverway boundary (specific to Minnesota, but still a great overview for Wisconsin).
Contact your local zoning administrator to learn how your property is zoned or if there are any other restrictions on your property. Familiarize yourself with these protections before investing in any development plans!
What if I want to make changes to my property?
Understanding the rules is just the first step in a long and sometimes complicated process. Here are five things you can do to save time and money on rebuild/remodel projects in the Riverway (and to help the River, too! – win, win.).
1) Talk to the right people, at the right time
While tempting, don’t ask your neighbor if they think you’ll be able to make changes on your property. Every property is unique and each land-use decision is particular to that property. Ask your local zoning administrator about the restrictions specific to your land before investing in plans. This will save you time and money!
2) Identify and meet with stakeholders in person
Beyond your local government, the Department of Natural Resources, the watershed district, the city engineer, and others may be active stakeholders, depending on the project. Communicate early and often with the stakeholders involved. Make sure to meet in person with everyone at a pre-application meeting (usually organized by the local zoning administrator). Again, do this before investing in plans.
3) Know the process
Understand that the process of applying for a variance or conditional use permit is costly and lengthy. Manage your expectations to avoid unnecessary fees and frustrations. Familiarize yourself with the process to minimize complications and application revisions. Start with the pre-application meeting, which may include a site visit, to learn about the restrictions on your property. If a land-use application is required, invest in high-quality information. This helps deciding bodies make educated land-use decisions that follow the intent of the law and protect the Riverway for future generations. Incomplete applications will not be accepted, so spend the money to do it right the first time. Your project, once reviewed by the agencies involved, will be presented at a public hearing where anyone can comment. The local government will approve or deny the application. This process can take months and, in some situations, even years.
4) Be open to adjustments
If you dream of a two-story bright red shed on your property, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Try not to fall in love with your initial vision because it may have to change – and that’s okay! You can still do creative, beautiful things with your home. At a pre-application meeting, each party will work with you to minimize the impact of your project (which sometimes means scaling back) and to express concerns about visibility or structure height. That original two-story bright red shed might end up being a one-story brown shed that still meets your needs. Be open to adjustments and expect the original idea to evolve.
5) Mitigate and improve your property
While we all want to be good stewards of the land and water, we are not all trained in natural resource management. It can be difficult to know where to begin. When making changes to your property, simple actions can improve the land and water for you, your neighbors, and everyone downstream. Are there any old structures on your land? Removing these will decrease impervious surfaces and allow rain to soak into the ground before it runs to a nearby stream or river. Installing a rain garden will capture runoff, and native plantings will decrease erosion and clean the water before it meets the river.
The Best Practices for Zoning Applications resource outlines the steps necessary to change your property, from thinking about a remodeling project to properly documenting it with your local government. It is a workbook designed for landowner’s to document information about their property and take notes at their pre-application meeting. For a paper copy, contact your local government or the St. Croix River Association.
Who To Contact
Contact your local government (city administrator or, if property is in a township, the county planner), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), or the National Park Service (for scenic easements) before undertaking any work on your property to learn about Riverway zoning regulations related to your proposed activity or project. For more information or questions about the Riverway rules, contact the DNR area hydrologist.
National Park Service (for scenic easements): 715-483-2261
Lands Program Manager: Laura Hojem. firstname.lastname@example.org
MN DNR (Properties in Washington County): 651-259-5754
MN DNR Hydrologist: Jen Sorensen. email@example.com
MN DNR (Properties in Chisago County): 763-689-7100
MN DNR Hydrologist: Craig Wills. firstname.lastname@example.org
MN DNR Easements: 651-259-5599
Daniel Golner: Daniel.Golner@state.mn.us
Planner: Sara Taylor. email@example.com
Lakeland Shores: 651-436-1789
Lake St. Croix Beach: 651-436-7031
Marine on St. Croix: 651-433-3636
Oak Park Heights: 651-439-4439
St. Mary’s Point: 651-436-1099
Taylors Falls: 651-465-5133
For townships, contact your county:
Washington County: 651-430-4300
Planner: Ann Pung-Terwedo. firstname.lastname@example.org
Chisago County: 651-213-8382
Wisconsin DNR: 920-755-1521
Kay Lutze: Kay.Lutze@wisconsin.gov
Planner: Mike Johnson. 715-716-5744. email@example.com
St. Croix Falls: 715-483-3929
For townships, contact your county:
St. Croix County: 715-386-4672
Planner: John Hilgers. firstname.lastname@example.org
Polk County: (715) 485-9248
Zoning Administrator: Jason Kjeseth. email@example.com
One-click to Download PDF versions
- Landowner’s Guide to the Lower St. Croix Riverway
- Best Practices for Zoning Applications in the Lower Riverway
- Earth-tone Color Swatches
- Panel card: Introduction to Riverway Protections and Contacts
- A Guide to Raingardens
- A Guide to Native Plants
- Managing Your Bluffland
One-click download PDF print-ready versions
If you are interested in paper copies of the above resources please contact us. If you’d like to print them on your own, please use the documents below (printing instructions included).
- Landowner’s Guide to the Lower St. Croix Riverway Print Version with Bleeds
- Best Practices Doc with Bleeds
- Earth-tone Color swatches with bleeds
- Panel card: Introduction to Riverway Protections and Contacts Print version with bleeds
- Instructions on how to print Landowner’s Guide to the Lower St. Croix Riverway and panel cards