Camp Ripley has been an important part of the Central Minnesota landscape since the first troops arrived for training in June 1931. Today the 53,000-acre camp, owned and managed by the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs, is the main training site for the Minnesota National Guard and the primary winter training facility in the United States. Camp Ripley is an asset to the entire military community and generates more than $350 million annually in local economic impact.
Thanks to its long-standing, award-winning environmental research, management and education programs, Camp Ripley also provides excellent habitat for many plants and animals, including red-shouldered hawks, golden-winged warblers, Blanding’s turtles, gray wolves and black bears.
Though Camp Ripley has operated in this area for more than 85 years, it is, like other U.S. military facilities, increasingly threatened by residential encroachment on its borders. In some instances, encroachment is so severe that military facilities have been forced to curtail or even cancel training exercises because of concerns about noise and public safety.
In 2004, Camp Ripley developed an Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Morrison Soil and Water Conservation District and The Nature Conservancy to ensure it was able to continue to provide high quality training to our country’s armed forces while protecting its natural areas.
The Camp Ripley ACUB created a three-mile permanent compatible use buffer area, preserving the historic agricultural and recreational land uses and protecting a valuable ecological area of central Minnesota. The Conservancy helped jump start land acquisition in the buffer zone. Since that time, more than 20,000 acres have been protected in the buffer zone surrounding the Camp.
In 2015, the Minnesota Legislature designated Camp Ripley the first state Sentinel Landscape in the U.S.
Sentinel Landscapes are places where federal, state, local and private agencies and organizations work together to 1) preserve the working and rural character of key landscapes, strengthening the economies of farms, ranches, and forests; 2) conserve habitat and natural resources; and 3) protect vital test and training missions conducted on the military installations that anchor such landscapes.
In 2016, Camp Ripley was designated a federal Sentinel Landscape, which encompasses close to 804,000 acres. The Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape sits at a convergence of several high quality water features, including 50 miles of the first 400 miles of the Mississippi River and four major tributaries to the river, as well as thousands of acres of public and private conservation lands that can potentially be connected in conservation corridors. This landscape is also one of Minnesota’s most important source water protection areas for drinking water. The Nature Conservancy’s Lake Alexander Preserve is located within the boundaries of the Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape.
With the Sentinel Landscape designation, Camp Ripley has expanded the ACUB program’s goal of limiting incompatible land uses around the camp to include additional conservation work, particularly sustainable forestry and agriculture management. The focus area for Sentinel Landscape partners was expanded from 3 miles to approximately a 10-mile radius around Camp Ripley.
The Nature Conservancy was hired to coordinate the conservation work within the Sentinel Landscape, including helping state and local partners protect and restore native habitats and work with farmers to use best practices to reduce soil and nutrient runoff to rivers and lakes. The Conservancy is also helping secure additional funding to complement the federal funding and track the results to determine if the goals for the project are being met.
For more information about the Conservancy’s work in the Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape, contact Todd Holman, Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.