But how are the 1,109 acres and 12.5 miles of trail being used? And are they meeting the needs of Rice County's residents?
In 2021, the Rice County Board of Commissioners hired a consulting firm to help it take an in-depth look at the county's outdoor amenities and deliver recommendations for the future of the county's parks system.
The consultants on June 21, 2022, delivered an update that included preliminary recommendations. Among them: Increase the annual parks budget from $100,000 to $350,000, achieve regional designation for Cannon River Wilderness Area which would help the county obtain grant funding to improve the park, and update restrooms and other comfort facilities. Find the PowerPoint presentation here Version OptionsParks System PlanHeadlinePark It!.
The draft plan, presented to the Board of Commissioners Dec. 20, 2022, was approved the following week. The board has also endorsed a resolution requesting regional designation for the Cannon River Wilderness Area from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.
Designation is a multi-step process beginning with a baseline evaluation. If ranked high in the initial evaluation, Rice County would need to complete and submit a master plan for the park. If selected by the commission, the CRWA would be eligible to apply for state funding from Minnesota's Legacy Parks & Trails Fund. All funding is authorized by the state legislature based on recommendations from the commission.
Find the approved Park System Plan, which includes an inventory of the county’s 12 parks; a guide to short-term and long-term development of each site;, and recommendations for park system branding and plan implementation, here Version OptionsPark System PlanHeadline.
Rice County has 12 parks, covering 1,109 acres, and 12.5 miles of trails. That equals 5,161 Rice County residents per park.
Rice County has seven boat launches (for both motorized and non-motorized boats).
Cannon River Wilderness Area is the county's largest park by far. It has 850 acres of wooded river valley, 5 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, a canoe launch on the wild and scenic Cannon River and four primitive campsites.
The county operates a campground on the shores of Shields Lake. McCullough Park and Campground is just a few miles west of Faribault on Hwy. 21. It features 30 campsites (20 water/electric and 10 non-water/non-electric) and is adjacent to a DNR boat launch.
The Heron Island Bird Sanctuary, acquired by Rice County in 1968, serves strictly as a bird sanctuary area.
At one time it was one of the largest rookeries for the great blue heron and the American egret in the upper Midwest.