The Way Forward
How A National Park is made.
The process of creating a National Park is undeniably long and tedious - and, in the end, requires an act of Congress. The first real step in creating a unit in the National Park system is for Congress to ask the Park Service and the Department of the Interior to perform studies on the matter. The first study - a reconnaissance survey - is more of a simple yes or no and can be requested by members of Congress. The second - a special resource study - is a more detailed analysis of every facet of a potential park unit. During this time, the Park Service will examine the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of the proposal. This study is supposed to take at most 3 years to complete.
The National Park Service looks for 3 things in its special resource study:
The area must possess nationally significant natural, cultural, or recreational resources.
The area must be a suitable and feasible addition to the system.
The area must require direct NPS management instead of protection by some other governmental agency or by the private sector.
Below is our argument for why the Driftless makes sense for NPS inclusion.
The Driftless is a place like no other.
(From the National Park Service) A proposed unit will be considered nationally significant if it meets all four of the following standards:
It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation’s heritage.
It offers superlative opportunities for recreation for public use and enjoyment or for scientific study.
It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.
Our Argument: A Driftless National park would qualify as an outstanding example of the wider Driftless region - an area geologically and ecologically unique to the world. The Driftless region helped to culturally define the Upper Midwest region during the mid-1800s, and the region still has a rich cultural heritage to this day. The park would be a major source of outdoor public use and enjoyment through a variety of potential activities that are largely unavailable on the same scale across the Midwest area (hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, etc.). The Whitewater Valley and surrounding areas represent the most protected inland space within the larger Driftless region and have retained, to the largest scale, the sense of the land before western arrival.
National Resource Significance
(From the National Park Service) The following examples of natural resources are considered in evaluating the significance of a proposal for addition to the National Park System:
• an outstanding site that illustrates the characteristics of a widespread landform or biotic area. that is still widespread;
• a rare remnant natural landscape or biotic area of a type that was once widespread but is now vanishing due to human settlement and development;
• a landform or biotic area that has always been extremely uncommon in the region or nation;
• a site that possesses exceptional diversity of ecological components (species, communities, or habitats) or geological features (landforms, observable manifestations of geologic processes);
• a site that contains biotic species or communities whose natural distribution at that location is makes them unusual (for example, a community relatively large population at the limit of its range or a disjunction isolated population);
• a site that harbors a concentrated population of a rare plant or animal species, particularly one officially recognized as threatened or endangered;
• a critical refuge that is necessary for the continued survival of a species;
• a site that contains rare or unusually abundant fossil deposits;
• an area that has outstanding scenic qualities such as dramatic topographic features, unusual contrasts in landforms or vegetation, spectacular vistas, or other special landscape features;
• a site that has an invaluable ecological or geological importance benchmark due to an extensive and long-term record of research and scientific discovery
Our Argument: The Whitewater Valley is an extremely valuable example of the Driftless Region, where multiple different habitats - some rare - are present within the Valley. The valley has several Algific Talus slopes, an extremely unique-to-the-Driftless habitat marked by cold air emanating from deep cracks of ice that persist year-round. The Algific Talus slopes are home to rare species either found nowhere else in the world or found in regions far removed from the local Midwest. Oak savannas, one of the rarest plant communities on earth, dot parts of the valley and provide critical habitat for plants and animals. The sloping hills and bluffs of the surrounding area provide a great opportunity for further oak savanna restoration efforts.
The Valley’s prominent bluffs and cliffs are remarkable examples of those found elsewhere in the Driftless. This area runs up to the Mississippi River, from where the area's karst topography appears even more prominent. The three 500-plus foot bluffs of John A. Latsch state park are a fantastic example of this.
The Valley is home to federally endangered/threatened species such as the Rusty Patch Bumblebee (pictured above), Northern Long-eared Bat, and Leedy’s Roseroot. Other federally endangered/threatened species that do or possibly occur near the valley include the Higgin’s Eye Pearly Mussel, the Sheepnose Mussel, Karner Blue Butterfly, and the Prairie Bush Clover.
All in all, the three included counties of Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona are host to 100 different state endangered/threatened species - the majority of which occur within the Whitewater Valley and immediate surrounding area. Another 108 species are listed as special concern status in the state.
Why it makes sense.
(From NPS) An area that is nationally significant also must meet criteria for suitability and feasibility to qualify as a potential addition to the National Park System. To be suitable for inclusion in the system, an area must represent a natural or cultural theme or type of recreational resource that is not already adequately represented in the National Park System or is not comparably represented and protected for public enjoyment by another land-managing entity. Adequacy of representation is determined on a case-by-case basis by comparing the proposed area to other units in the National Park System for differences or similarities in the character, quality, quantity, or combination of resources and opportunities for public enjoyment.
Our Argument: A Driftless National Park and Preserve would be the first of its kind for not just the National Park Service, but for the country - and arguably the world - as a whole. The scale of rare plant environments, rolling hills and valleys, karst topography, and potential for rewilding and recreational activities would be entirely unique to the NPS. The only other NPS unit with similar geologic features is Effigy Mounds National Monument in Northeast Iowa, but it's a significantly smaller area with a main focus on archeological resources. Other state parks and units of public land across the Driftless also protect these similar features, but again on a comparatively dwarfed scale. A Driftless NP&P would likely be an order of magnitude larger than all of these units and thereby allow for modes of recreation unseen in the region, and this vast rewilded habitat would take on rare characteristics now only partly seen in the Whitewater Valley.
Why it can work.
(From the NPS) To be feasible as a new unit of the National Park System, an area’s natural systems and/or historic settings must be of sufficient size and appropriate configuration to ensure the long-term protection of the resources and to accommodate public use. It must have the potential for efficient administration at a reasonable cost. Important feasibility factors include land ownership, acquisition costs, life cycle maintenance costs, access, threats to the resource, and staff or development requirements.
Our Argument: A Driftless National Park and Preserve becomes feasible with the inclusion of the large tracts of public lands in and around the Whitewater Valley area. These lands allow the park to attain a large scale similar to that of other national parks for a relatively low cost. Land acquisition efforts, when backed by the State of Minnesota and with the potential assistance from other organizations, would be an extensive yet manageable endeavor. For the state of Minnesota, funds used in land acquisition would very likely be quickly recovered as tourism dollars to the local economy. Meanwhile, the presence of numerous state parks, campgrounds, trails, actively managed state hunting lands, and federally managed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the area provide the infrastructure that can accommodate the visitors of a National Park.