A group of local residents from May Township and the surrounding area are exploring the possibility of designating a part of Norell Ave as a natural preservation route.
The road runs north and south, parallel to State Highway 95, winding its way through the rural parts of northern Washington County. The stretch of road residents are concerned about in particular runs from Square Lake Trail to County Road 4.
In January 2020 Washington County issued a request for proposal for a corridor improvement project on Norell Ave. that could mean major physical changes on the roadway, including widened lane and shoulder widths. Residents of Norell Ave. and the surrounding area believe this could jeopardize the environmental quality and the natural beauty of the land surrounding the road, as well as endanger threatened species that inhabit the property.
“The landscape through which Norell Ave. passes possesses outstanding scenic values, habitat for rare and diverse wildlife and natural features of county, state and regional significance that are well documented by natural resource agencies,” reads a pamphlet put together by concerned residents. “These values are recognized and appreciated by the local community and by visitors who travel through to enjoy the countryside. Many of these features are highly sensitive, and could be degraded or destroyed by road design standards not appropriate for this setting.”
Designating the road a Natural preservation route could minimize any intrusive roadway designs. Natural preservation routes look to maintain the natural integrity of sensitive areas, while at the same time ensuring roads are kept up to safety standards.
“Natural preservation routes are designed for roads that have qualities like Norell Ave.,” said Laurie Allman, who’s helping organize the resident group. “Special unique features, rural character and scenic values.”
Other areas in Washington County that have been designated as natural preservation routes include County State-aid Highway 21 and the east-west section of County State-aid Highway 18 within the City of Afton. Allman said residents aren’t hostile toward the corridor improvement project, but that they just want to make sure the environmental significance of the area is taken into account by Washington County as the project design goes forward.
“The county might propose really context sensitive designs for the project,” Allmann said. “So I don’t see it as adversarial, it’s more like we’re asserting what matters to the people of this community and making sure that’s part of the balance.”
The project is currently being developed by Washington County and is projected to cost $6.7 million. Construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2023.
The 3-mile portion of Norell Ave. residents would like designated as a natural preservation route intersects the Carnelian Creek Corridor, which is part of a cluster of conservation priority areas in northern Washington County, and is part of a Regionally Significant Ecological Area, as identified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Some of the at risk species that inhabit this area include Blanding’s’ turtles, a state-listed threatened species and Red-Shouldered hawks, a state-listed ‘special concern’ species.
Allman said the scenic qualities of the road, in addition to the unique wildlife, make Norell Ave. a special place for both residents and visitors.
“People drive the road because it’s beautiful, and no matter how wide the road is there will be these big vistas of farm fields,” Allman said. “But what you might lose is the intimacy and the beauty of a country road. There’s something worth protecting here.”