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Tourism & Recreation

Northeastern Minnesota is recognized for the unique wild and natural character of its forests, lakes and hills. Much of the land is an extension of Canadian Shield geology found in few other areas of the U.S. Outdoor recreation activities are key components of tourism in northeastern Minnesota. Tourism in northeastern Minnesota has grown steadily in the last 2 decades. Coastal tourism has surged; in the Duluth area, tourism now has an estimated economic impact of $400 million per year while tourism in small coastal communities, like Two Harbors, Lutsen, Tofte, Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail, has shown equally impressive growth based on lodging tax receipts. At the same time, new homes and second homes have been and continue to be built at high rates.

This growth and the attendant human activity that it adds to the region has caused concern that the natural and scenic character of the area is being lost. Although there are extensive tracts of public land in the region, they are heavily used for timber and recreation with related impacts becoming more evident.

Communities that have never faced strong development pressures, including most of those surrounding Lake Superior, cannot necessarily accommodate new development within the context of comprehensive planning. Piece-meal, poorly-planned development can lead to unanticipated cumulative environmental and aesthetic impacts. Many Lake Superior Basin communities are developing comprehensive plans and actively seek guidance and training in land use planning technologies.

Water quality and quantity issues include:

  • Concerns about impacts from business (either non-tourism or tourism) and golf course development on trout streams and wetlands are voiced throughout the region.
  • Landscape management of shorelines has been identified as a factor in maintaining water quality as well as maintaining native wildlife habitat.
  • It was recently estimated that up to 75% of all rural septic systems are failing or non-compliant along the North Shore.
  • Stormwater runoff plagues most coastal communities because storm and sanitary sewer systems are not completely separate.
  • Improvements are needed to comply with a “zero discharge” Lake Superior and to continue to enjoy high quality water. This is an important part of the image of Lake Superior and the inland lakes in northeastern Minnesota that attracts tourists.
  • Concerns have been expressed about recreational activities that increase erosion and cause damage to waterways. The greatest concerns center around the use of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs), in particular, All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and their impact on the environment.
  • Interest in diverting Great Lakes water to less water-rich areas of the country continues to grow and has become serious enough that the International Joint Commission has recently developed a policy statement regarding Great Lakes water diversions.
  • Several communities on the North Shore rely on Lake Superior for municipal water supplies. Increasing development, recreation, and industry present new threats and challenges for source water protection. Local units of government are not prepared to develop and implement plans to minimize impacts on the nearshore zones of the lake that will threaten the water supply for North Shore residents.

Recreation & Tourism:

Topic Highlights:


Jesse Schomberg
Coastal Communities & Land Use Specialist

This page last modified on December 04, 2008     © 1996 – 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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