106 Success Story - Four Agencies, One Goal: Restoring the St. Croix Recreation Demonstration Area, Hinckley, MinnesotaFriday, November 30th, 2012
The following post is from FEMA Region V, in conjunction with the National Park Service Midwest Region, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
During the evening of July 1, 2011, storms accompanied by straight-line winds at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour tore through the St. Croix Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA), felling trees, blocking roadways, and damaging buildings across the park. Temporary closure of the park due to a budget stalemate just prior to the storm assured that there was no injury to park patrons, but the park’s facilities were significantly damaged. The storm devastated buildings directly and also produced tons of woody debris which further damaged structures throughout the park, a National Historic Landmark with an almost 80-year history.
In 1934, 18,000 acres of land midway between Minneapolis–St. Paul and Duluth were acquired for the development of the St. Croix RDA. During the New Deal, the National Park Service (NPS) planned 46 such parks as part of a program that sought to create jobs while repurposing marginal agricultural lands for recreational use. The RDAs were established with careful consideration of topography, viewsheds, and future reforestation. Swimming pools, open meadows, separate hiking and bridle trails, roads and plantings were developed in these parks to provide opportunities for outdoor sports and activities, particularly for children from urban areas.
Pre-disaster photos of an Adirondack at Crooked Creek and the Superintendent’s Cabin at Headquarters Area.
St. Croix ultimately became a state park and eventually grew to 30,000 acres, with many Rustic-Style structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration to serve as campgrounds, lodges, group centers and administrative areas. The St. Croix RDA’s 164 extant historic structures, roads and trails comprise the most extensive collection of individual New Deal projects in Minnesota, and they are located within one of the largest and best examples of RDA planning and design in the country. The park’s significance is reflected in the listing of one section of the park as a district on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and the subsequent designation of the entire park as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1997.
The park’s historic and architectural significance is reflected in the Rustic-Style structures, trails and recreational areas, much of which were damaged in the July 1 storms. On July 28, the president declared a major disaster for Minnesota, making federal funding available on a cost-sharing basis to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is responsible for maintaining the park.
Storm damage to Adirondack cabin at Crooked Creek and the Superintendent’s Cabin at Headquarters Area.
It took weeks of steady effort to clear debris so DNR staff could even begin an assessment of damage to historic structures within the park. Within two months, the park was again open to visitors but with the damaged buildings cordoned off. At that point, the work to define specific repairs to the many damaged Rustic Style buildings in the park had only begun. The damaged structures included simple Adirondack- type shelters, masonry and log cabins, bicycle and picnic shelters, and administrative buildings. Most structures suffered damage to roofing systems, though two were completely leveled by the storm, and two were damaged beyond repair, requiring the complete dismantling and salvage of their remains prior to complete reconstruction. The number of resources affected and the variation in the types of damage sustained complicated recovery efforts as well as the reviews required to assure that repairs met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. The goal of these reviews was to protect the character-defining features of the individual structures, thereby maintaining the integrity of the park as a whole.
Damage to Cabins A-2 andC-2 at St. John’s Landing.
The 106 Process
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was on the ground soon after the disaster declaration to provide support as the DNR continued its work and assessed the damage to historic structures. As part of regular disaster operations, the public was notified of and asked to comment on FEMA’s intent to use federal funding for disaster recovery projects, including those that could affect historic properties, such as the St. Croix RDA. In addition, section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires the federal agency to notify the Secretary of the Interior when federal funding will affect an NHL. As the extent of the damage became clear, FEMA’s Regional Environmental Officer (REO), responsible for overseeing the agency’s compliance with the NHPA, reached out to the NPS Midwest Office, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the Minnesota State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the DNR to review the projects being developed and to discuss ways to assure that the many historic structures damaged by the storm would be appropriately repaired.
Beginning with building inventories maintained by the DNR and working closely with the state and FEMA’s Public Assistance Branch, FEMA’s environmental review staff prepared summaries of proposed treatment measures and coordinated review with the consulting parties. As the DNR identified programs of repairs for individual resources or groups of resources and shared those with the consulting parties, FEMA managed discussions of those treatment measures through a series of conference calls and email exchanges.
Winter storms limited access to the park and therefore project development. Beginning in February, 2012, and continuing through July, the consulting parties gathered regularly to review repair specifications and discuss treatment measures to assure that the historic character of the RDA would not be compromised by the repairs. This level of engagement, driven by the DNR’s plans for repairs and managed by FEMA’s environmental review staff, resulted in the timely review of nearly 60 separate grant projects affecting almost half of the structures in the RDA.
Damage to Lodge A at St. John’s Landing, St. Croix Recreation Demonstration Area.
The scope of work and treatment measures for each project were formally documented, providing clarity regarding the expected outcomes of the repairs, whether they involved work as simple as the replacement of roofing shingles or as complex as the complete disassembly and reconstruction of buildings which suffered serious structural damage. After approval of the final project, a summary of treatment measures was developed to provide a record of the decisions made by the consulting parties.
As work continues on repairs over a year after the storms did their damage, the process followed by the consulting parties assures that repairs will maintain the park’s integrity, and that a record of these treatment measures will be available as guidelines for future repairs and maintenance.
Despite the damage sustained in the summer of 2011, the Section 106 process successfully addressed damage to the park’s historic resources, preserving an important part of our nation’s history. That success allows the park to continue providing opportunities for outdoor recreation as originally envisioned almost 80 years ago. The consulting parties, guided by the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, preserved St. Croix’s place as the best example of RDA design and planning and maintained its collection of architecturally-significant Rustic-Style buildings for the enjoyment of future generations.
Repairs to Lodge A at St. John’s Landing, in progress (left) and complete (right).