State of the Beach/State Reports/MN/Beach Access

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Minnesota Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access66
Water Quality66
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures3 4
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Minnesota DNR documents explain:

Who owns the bed of a lake, marsh, or watercourse?

When a waterbasin or watercourse is navigable under the federal test, the State of Minnesota owns the bed below the natural ordinary low water level (see Minnesota Statute 84-032; Lamprey v. State, 52 Minn. 1981, 53 N.W. 1139 (1983) and United States v. Holt State Bank, 270 U.S. 49 (1926)). The federal test used for navigability is “when they are used, or are susceptible of being used, in their natural and ordinary condition, as highways for commerce, over which trade or travel are or may be conducted.” (See State v. Longyear Holding Co., 224 Minn. 451, 29 N.W. 2d 657 (1947).) If a court has found that a lake is non-navigable and meandered, the shoreland owners own the bed of the lake in severalty. (See Schmidt v. Marschel, 211 Minn. 543, 2d 121 (1942).) If a stream is non-navigable but has been meandered, the shoreland owners own to the thread (centerline) of the stream. If a lake or stream is non-navigable and not meandered, ownership of the bed is as indicated on individual property deeds.

What is considered trespassing when the public seeks access to a water body?
The belief that the state owns a strip of land around all Minnesota lakes for public use is false. Riparian property (property abutting a lake, river, or wetland) is either privately or publicly owned. The general public can access water bodies or watercourses via public property, but not through private property. Individuals entering private property without permission from the landowner are trespassing and may be prosecuted under the state trespass laws. It is illegal to trespass on private property in order to gain access to a water body or watercourse without first obtaining the verbal or written permission from a landowner. A person who has legally gained access to a water body may use its entire surface for recreation, such as boating, swimming, or fishing. Using the underlying bed of the lake or river, if access was gained legally, is called “incidental use”; the use of the bed or bottom is incidental to the water body’s primary use. Examples include poling or anchoring a boat, wading on the bed to swim or fish, and anchoring decoys or traps.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund's (Public Law 88-578 (1964)) objective is to encourage creation and interpretation of high quality, outdoor recreational opportunities. Funds for this program are spent on the acquisition of land for public outdoor recreational areas and preservation of water frontage and open space, and the development of public outdoor park and recreational areas and their support facilities. Funding is available for inland and coastal projects. Though its competitive grant program MLSCP provides opportunities for acquisition through section 306A of CZMA. MLSCP has also provided funds for land acquisition using Great Lakes Coastal Restoration funds.

Site Inventory

The availability of public access to the 206 miles of Minnesota Lake Superior shoreline is largely dependent on the ownership above the ordinary high watermark.

The coastal program provides funding for several different aspects of public access: land acquisition, trail planning and construction, boardwalks, trail bridges, overlook/viewing platforms, access parking, and harbor/marina elements. An MLSCP intern has also completed a public access inventory in cities and towns along the North Shore.

The Minnesota Lake Superior Beach Monitoring Program has a nice series of maps on their Website that show the monitored beaches in Cook, Lake and St. Louis Counties. They also have a beach data viewer that allows you to zoom in on beach areas.

The 2006 Assessment and Strategies states:

The Minnesota Coastal Area supports various types of public access including beaches, boating, parks and natural areas, historical and cultural areas, and an extensive network of trails. Approximately 1,504 square miles of Lake Superior is held in public trust for the citizens of Minnesota. The availability of public access to the 206 miles of Minnesota shoreline is largely dependent on the ownership above the Ordinary High Watermark (OHW). A wide variety of public access opportunities are provided by public and private entities in Minnesota’s Coastal Area.

The Assessment and Straegy lists:

  • State Parks - 9, 44,015 Acres
  • State Wayside - 5, 526 Acres
  • Local Parks - 74
  • Beaches - 79
  • Shoreline Access - 15
  • Motorized Boat Access - 23 (5 Marinas)
  • Non-motorized Boat Access - 10
  • Designated Scenic Vistas & Overlook - 29
  • State or Locally Designated Perpendicular Rights-of-Way (i.e. street ends, easements) - Unknown
  • Fishing Points (i.e. piers, jetties) - 5
  • Gitchi Gami Bike Trail - 40 miles planned, 17 miles completed
  • Duluth Lake Walk - 4.2 Miles
  • Lake Superior Water Trail - 157 miles
  • Superior Hiking Trail - 205 miles, developing 40 miles of new trails, 7.5 miles are complete
  • State Park Hiking Trails - 237 miles (dual use)
  • State Park X-Country Ski Trails, 121 miles (dual use)
  • Ski Club, Municipal, and Private X-country Ski Trails, 589 kilometers
  • State Park Horse Trails - 103 miles
  • OHV Trails - 56 miles
  • Snowmobile Trails - 352 miles ADA Compliant Access(%) - Unknown
  • Dune Walkovers - 4
  • Public Beaches with Water Quality Monitoring and Public Notice (% of total beach miles) - 30.3 miles of shoreline at 39 beaches (52%) are monitored.
  • Beaches Closed due to Water Quality Concerns (# of beach mile days) - 31 beach mile days (2004), 37 beach mile days (2005)
    Note: A total of 3636 beach mile days are monitored
  • Number of Existing Public Access Sites that have been Enhanced (i.e. parking, restrooms, signage) - 20 sites using CZMA 306A funds

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains a Website providing information on outdoor activities and places (see the Recreation and Destinations tabs). From the Website, visitors can access online maps (Recreation Compass), buy permits and licenses, access trail reports, search for fishing lakes and fish consumption advisories by lake (Lake Finder).

The DNR also maintains a Public Recreation Information Map series highlighting public lands and recreation opportunities. The maps are updated every 3 years, and available to the public for a fee. The state also provides free public boat access, snowmobile, ATV maps, and state park maps. The maps are available at area DNR offices.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) maintains the Minnesota Beaches Website to provide information about 39 beach locations and the results of ongoing monitoring for human health related water quality issues. It is updated frequently during the summer based on a weekly (or twice-weekly for heavily used beaches) monitoring schedule.

It is a goal of the Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program to develop a comprehensive public access plan for the MLSCP boundary. A comprehensive public access plan will provide improved access to coastal resources and will be the vehicle needed to address protection, preservation and acquisition of key recreational, historical, aesthetic, ecological and cultural sites for public enjoyment. This information will incorporate existing databases and newly acquired data to provide a more comprehensive picture of public access needs, opportunities, and resources in the coastal area. This plan will also be to used establish funding and outreach priorities for MLSCP’s grant program. Maintenance of this information also contributes to the development and use of Public Access indicators that can be incorporated into the CZMA Performance Measurement System.

The Minnesota North Shore Visitor Guide has a map of the North Shore and state park maps.

The USACE took oblique images of the entire Great Lakes shoreline (USA portion only) in 2012 by plane and has provided the images for free online. Once you’ve opened the webpage, select a Great Lake (or river) of interest to you by checking the appropriate box in the left-hand window pane. You may select or deselect a particular state as well. To view an image of interest to you, zoom into the area on the Google satellite map (in middle), and then select a spot along one of the colored lines that you’d like to view. Note that each colored line represents an individual pass of an airplane. Once you select a spot along the line, a window pane on the right will appear showing you the image of that exact spot on the map. Double clicking the image will enlarge it and offer metadata. If you scroll up and down and select different images in the right-hand window pane, your camera icon on the satellite map will move along with your picture change.

Beach Attendance Records

According to Minnesota Sea Grant, an estimated 3.5 million visitors came to Duluth and the North Shore in 1997.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

According to Minnesota Sea Grant, tourism had an economic impact of $583 million for the three coastal Minnesota counties in 1995.

An analysis of jobs in the Great Lakes region by Michigan Sea Grant published in 2011 shows that the Lakes are key to the economy of the Great Lakes states in many ways. More than 1.5 million Great Lakes-related jobs generated $62 billion in wages, in 2009. For the complete analysis, see: Great Lakes Jobs Report (PDF).

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

It is not currently known what percent of public feel they have adequate access to the coast for recreation purposes and even less well known how participants in each of the specific water- and land-based coastal activities listed feel about the adequacy of access for their particular form of recreation.

Regarding impediments to access, the Coastal Assessment and Strategy states:

Minnesota, like any state, has a number of impediments to being able to meet the demands for public access in the coastal area. Minnesota has been quite successful at linking and integrating the objectives of many of its natural resource programs. Impediments therefore, are related less to conflicts with other resources management objectives, as they are to other factors.

Impediments include:

  • Riparian ownership: Private interests control uses of land above the Ordinary High Watermark (OHW).
  • Increased population: As more individuals move to the coastal area, less land becomes available to provide public access opportunities.
  • Limited parking: Much of the existing lakeshore is inaccessible by roads or has insufficient parking available to accommodate the demand for shoreline use.
  • Insufficient funding: State and Federal funding for activities related to public access is limited and not adequate to meet demands.
  • Water quality: Increased use of lake and terrestrial resources can lead to degraded water quality.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed a State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) in 2001 that identified outdoor recreation priorities for the state of Minnesota. The SCORP is Minnesota's outdoor recreation policy plan. Key issues identified included:

  • Establish outdoor recreation priorities for Minnesota that will help outdoor recreation and natural resource managers, the state legislature, and the executive branch make decisions about the state's outdoor recreation system.
  • Set out criteria to allocate the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund investment consistent with the state's outdoor recreation priorities defined in this plan.

In addition, a 29-member planning team developed seven priorities for Minnesota outdoor recreation. These priorities include:

  1. Protect and restore the natural resource base on which outdoor recreation depends -- Minnesota's lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, grasslands and forests.
  2. Sustain Minnesota's existing outdoor recreation facilities for future generations.
  3. In areas of rapid population growth, reserve prime recreation lands--such as shoreland and significant natural areas--ahead of development and provide recreation facilities such as parks, trails and water accesses.
  4. Respond to the demands of Minnesota's changing population.
  5. Expand nature-based outdoor recreation experiences for youth living in urban areas through "close-by" access to natural areas.
  6. Improve coordination of the recreation-related activities of governmental and nongovernmental providers.
  7. Understand the capacity of Minnesota's natural resources to support satisfying outdoor recreation opportunities.

The priorities outlined in SCORP are based on two guiding principles:

  • Encouraging a better, highly integrated outdoor system that balances recreation and protection of natural and cultural resources.
  • Strengthening the awareness of the connection between outdoor recreation and good health.

Public Education Program

MLSCP has partnered (through the 306 grant program) in many projects:

  • The Duluth Website provides public access information on local communities, school activities, recreation opportunities available on local streams, and provides seasonal recreation activity information. This Website received GLIN’s site of the month award and educates users on many other issues affecting local streams.
  • Minnesota Beach Monitoring Program’s Beach Data Viewer provides beach locations and their current advisory information.
  • Duluth Stream Cards, collectable sets of cards featuring the City of Duluth streams, are a popular reward for students attending area outreach and education events held by local environmental educators. The cards feature recreation opportunities, along with maps of the stream watershed.
  • Lake Superior: The Greatest Lake, is a DVD featuring Lake Superior. More of an environmental outreach tool, this DVD highlights Lake Superior’s unique features and opportunities.

Contact Info

Coastal Program Manager:
Amber Westerbur
(218) 834-1445

Division of Ecological and Water Resources Assistant Regional Manager:
Mike Peloquin
(218) 327-4417

More staff contacts

State of the Beach Report: Minnesota
Minnesota Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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