Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA)

New rules are in place and local planning and zoning is underway!

What is the Mississippi River critical area?
How did it become a national park?
Why are state rules necessary?
How are the rules being implemented?
What's happening now?
What you can do
How did we get here?
Who to contact for more information

What is the critical area?

River Corridor Map

The Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) is a joint state, regional and local program that provides coordinated planning and management for the 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River through the seven-county metropolitan area and 54,000 acres of surrounding land across 30 local jurisdictions.

MRCCA was designated a state critical area in 1976 to protect and preserve the unique natural, aesthetic, cultural and historical values as well as the biological and ecological functions of the Mississippi River and adjacent lands. (More precise details can be found in MN Statute 116G.15, Subdivision 1.) These resources and values are protected through development standards and criteria implemented via local land use plans and zoning ordinances.

How did it become a national park?

In 1988 the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA)—which shares the same geographic boundary as the MRCCA, was added to the National Park System to protect, preserve and enhance the Mississippi River and its fundamental resources. Adding the federal designation raised the Critical Area to a level of national importance.

MNRRA operates as a "partnership park," with the National Park Service owning only 67 of the 54,000 acres within the park boundary. The rest is composed of city parks, regional parks, a state park, a national wildlife refuge, state scientific and natural areas, along with civic institutions, private businesses and homes.The National Park Service works in partnership with state and local government, bringing additional services and support to help local communities preserve, protect and enjoy the natural and cultural assets of the river corridor.

Why are state rules necessary?

Both the state critical area and national park designations were established to protect the Mississippi's unique resources of national and statewide significance. The largest river in North America is an international flyway for millions of migratory birds and a critical habitat corridor for fish and other wildlife. It also provides drinking water for millions of Americans.

With the river's only waterfall and gorge, the Mississippi changes more through the Twin Cities than anywhere else in its entire length, transforming from a prairie river to a gorge to a floodplain river. This National Park is where the river grows up into the famed Mightly Mississippi that is known around the world.

In addition to state and federal government involvement, more than 30 local jurisdictions make up the MRCCA and MNRRA corridor. After 30 years, the original MRCCA regulations had become outdated and needed to be replaced by common sense state rules that could be applied consistently and effectively across 25 cities and five counties.

While most national parks have federal regulations that apply everywhere within the park, a special bargain or compact was formed to allow federal, state and local governments to cooperatively manage this national park through the state critical area program. The state of Minnesota held up their end of that bargain when they finalized strong state rules for the critical area and national park in 2016.

How are the rules being implemented?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' rules for development within the corridor are now law! (FMR press release.) 

It took more than a decade to complete, but Minnesota now has official state rules in place to protect the outstanding natural, scenic, cultural and recreational resources of the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA). The new rules, formally adopted at the end of 2016, represent a major milestone for our National Park on the Mississippi River.

Although the DNR has oversight of the program, the MRCCA rules are implemented at the local level through each corridor city's comprehensive plan and MRCCA ordinance.

Most of the 25 cities have completed their river corridor planning documents and maps, and incorporated them into their comprehensive plans. The plans provided each community with an opportunity to inventory the river resources and places they value, and establish goals to protect those resources. Local residents and FMR River Guardians got involved and helped their city planners by identifying important scenic views, suggesting future river access points, and encouraging sensitive lands to be set aside for habitat and water quality benefits.

These plans provide the framework for the city to update their zoning code to include the MRCCA rules.

What's happening now?

Later this year, the DNR will begin notifying cities that they have one year to complete a new MRCCA ordinance that is consistent with the state rules. The DNR intends to continue notifying cities every three to four months, with the goal of completing all 25 ordinances in the next 2-3 years.

In order to assist cities with this process, the DNR has developed a Model Ordinance that cities can use and customize to the specific needs of their city. The DNR model ordinance will include suggested additional standards that are stronger than the state rules, for cities that want stronger protections for some of their most important river resources.

What you can do

This is what we've been waiting for! New MRCCA ordinances are where the rubber hits the road in this process, and all of the hard work to get the rules authorized, adopted and written will finally pay off. Each city will have science-based, common-sense regulations to protect the special features and important resources of the Mississippi River corridor.

FMR engaged dozens of River Guardians to weigh in on local MRCCA plans and we plan to engage many more in helping to track and shape the new MRCCA ordinances. We will reach out to River Guardians with an update later this year, so stay tuned.

In the mean time, to learn more about how you can get involved and weigh in with decision-makers on a variety of river corridor issues, please visit FMR’s river corridor land use blog.

Sign up to become a River Guardian and be sure to click "I will advocate for the vitality of the Twin Cities river corridor, our national park," and we'll make sure you receive future MRCCA communications from FMR. 

How did we get here and what's next?

  • 1976 Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) established by State of Minnesota

  • 1988 Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) established by U.S. Congress

  • 2009-2015 Critical Area reform legislation passes and DNR develops state rules with stakeholder input

  • 2016 State of Minnesota formally adopts rules

  • 2018 Corridor cities draft new river corridor plans per new rules, with input from community and National Park Service/MNRRA

  • 2019 DNR & Met Council review and approve river corridor plans

  • 2019 DNR begins notifying corridor cities that they have one year to develop and adopt a new river corridor ordinance that is consistent with the MRCCA rules

  • 2020-2021 All 25 cities and townships in the corridor will update their zoning code to include their new ordinance

Who to contact for more information

• River Corridor Program Director Colleen O'Connor Toberman
 ctoberman@fmr.org, 651-222-2193 x29

• Senior Policy Advocate Irene Jones
 ijones@fmr.org651-222-2193 x11