Making sense of the rules for residents of the Lower St. Croix

New resources available to help prevent development conflicts and protect the St. Croix River.




3 minute read

The Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

Zoning conflicts on the Lower St. Croix River can not only be contentious, but complicated. The regulations are restrictive, to maintain the river essentially as it was 50 years ago. The regulations mean property-owners can struggle with the process of building or renovating structures along the river.

When the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was created, the governments of Minnesota and Wisconsin were given the power and responsibility of protecting its Wild & Scenic character, not the federal government (which manages the the upper river).

In both states, property-owners, local governments, and the state governments have been trying to figure it out ever since. And in both states, there is less protection today than decades past, mostly thanks to the Wisconsin legislature and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

So, with money and dream homes often on the line, people who love the river and want to live on it can still have a hard time trying to design a house that fits in.

A couple years ago, Natalie Warren stepped into this situation. Natalie was hired by the St. Croix River Association to work with local communities to educate people about the riverway rules and the process, and make it all generally go a lot smoother.

Natalie not only spoke to every city council and city clerk she could, she also led the creation of an easy-to-use handbook explaining the various rules of the Riverway. It had diagrams showing setback and height requirements that were more simply explained than I had ever seen.

Now, Natalie has helped produce the video below, celebrating the St. Croix and explaining the rules, and why they exist. It was made by Artex Productions.

We also celebrate Natalie’s time at the St. Croix River Association coming to an end. She recently announced she’s heading back to school, to get her Ph.D at the University of Minnesota. So — thank you Natalie for all your work on behalf of the river! Happy trails.

And nice work on the video!

Via the St. Croix River Association:

How Is the Lower St. Croix Riverway Protected?

In 1972, the lower St. Croix River became one of our country’s few national Wild and Scenic Rivers. Minnesota and Wisconsin adopted zoning standards for a strip of land along the St. Croix River’s shores. This Riverway overlay zone consists of building restrictions intended to preserve the wild and scenic character of the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River. The riverway regulations are designed to protect water quality, provide habitat for birds, fish, and wildlife, and maintain a relatively unspoiled view for the millions of visitors drawn to the Riverway.

The St. Croix River Association’s (SCRA) Land program helps preserve the natural beauty of the Lower St. Croix Riverway through partnerships with local governments, landowners, and realtors. SCRA provides education about the unique protections in the Riverway and vital resources to encourage consistency and transparency of land-use decisions throughout the river corridor.

Where Is the Riverway Boundary?

The Riverway Boundary spans 52 miles from Taylor’s Falls/St. Croix Falls to Prescott/Hayward. On average, the boundary extends a quarter-mile out from the river’s edge. However, in some places the boundary is wide, and in other places the boundary can be very narrow.

To learn more, visit


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Making sense of the rules for residents of the Lower St. Croix