Proposed Fairy Falls site plan calls for management changes, now open to public comment

Draft proposal seeks to handle growing number of visitors, public meeting June 25.

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The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway has released a draft proposal for its 54-acre Fairy Falls site near Stillwater, and is now inviting the public to review and comment on the document. The proposal calls for changes to the site intended to accommodate increasing visitor numbers over the past decade.

“Deep ravines and steep bluffs surround Silver Creek as it passes through a marsh on its way to the St. Croix River,” the agency says. “The site features abundant ecological diversity and culturally significant history.”

The National Park Service has owned the site since 1980. The agency closed access to it in 2020 due to concerns about visitor safety, erosion, and other issues — and didn’t reopen it for nearly two years. While visitor numbers at Fairy Falls are not tracked, overall the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway has seen an increase from 221,000 in 2010 to 833,000 in 2022.

The Park Service has been working on the proposal now open for comment since 2021. The process has included previous rounds of information and public comment.

The proposed plan calls for the development of a one-mile loop trail through the site, mostly following existing undesignated trails. The trails would be brought to National Park Service standards. It would include passing an overlook of the waterfall. Currently, there are about two miles of undesignated, visitor-created trails, and the Park Service would remove some of these paths.

A major challenge that has long vexed visitors to Fairy Falls is vehicle parking. Currently, in partnership with Stillwater Township, parking is allowed on Orwell Ave., along the southwest side of the site. There is enough room for about six cars. The new plan calls for an approximately 12-vehicle parking lot on the southeast side of the property, accessed from Highway 95. But the National Park Service says construction of the parking lot will have to wait until funding is secured. Environmental, archaeological and other studies will also have to be completed.

The National Park Service has solicited input from neighbors, local officials, and tribal governments. Five tribes responded to a request for input, providing important information about Indigenous connections to the site.

“Tribal partners have expressed important cultural connections between Tribal people and this place over a long period of time,” the National Park Service says. “The archaeological record affirms a long history of people using and being in relationship with the site.”

The Park Service summarized the initial input from tribal partners into four themes about Fairy Falls and its environs that would inform site management: “This Site is a Home, A Light Hand, Intactness, and Keeping it Whole.”

The plan calls for possibly working with tribes, as well as other partners, on interpretive materials to expand public knowledge about the site. The stories of cultural resources, such as a cold storage cave carved into the sandstone, a pine plantation, a planted sugarbush, and an old orchard, could also be shared with visitors. Law enforcement activity could also be expanded, as the National Park Service would increase its patrols and partner with the Washington County Sheriff’s office to remove graffiti and ticket vandals, among enforcement of other illegal activity.

The plan also leaves open the possibility of expanding the site someday.

“NPS open to discussions about land exchanges, partnerships, and future acquisition of additional property from willing sellers that would enhance safety, access, and visitor enjoyment of Fairy Falls Day Use Area while protecting the site’s natural and cultural resources.”

The draft plan Environmental Assessment will be available for review through July 16, 2024. It can be reviewed and comments can be submitted at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/fairyfalls, or by mailing comments to Allissa Reynolds, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, WI 54024.

A public meeting will be held at the Stillwater Public Library on Tuesday, June 25, from 6 – 8 p.m. The meeting will have an open house format, with a short presentation delivered at 6:30 p.m. Project updates and public meeting materials can be found at the “Planning for Fairy Falls” link at https://www.nps.gov/sacn or by calling the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Headquarters at 715-483-2274.


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