Flying Cloud Drive

Work along a key corridor is preparing for the future — while preserving the past and the environment

Public Works recognized for prairie preservation

Hennepin County and its partners are being recognized by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for work along a key corridor to prepare for the future—while preserving the past and the environment.

Flying Cloud Drive serves as a main thoroughfare between Shakopee and Eden Prairie in the Minnesota River Valley. Hennepin County Public Works is partnering with MnDOT, Carver County and the cities of Eden Prairie and Chanhassen to rebuild a section of the road between Highway 101 and Charlson Road. Work will raise the road above the 100-year flood plain to reduce potential for closing the road when the river spills over its banks. Plans also include a multi-use trail.

But Flying Cloud Drive — also known as County Road 61 — runs through Hennepin County's largest and most ecologically functional prairie remnant. The prairie supports rare plants and unique wildlife while offering sweeping vistas of the river valley. The project grade slopes toward the Minnesota River, making it more sensitive to environmental impacts, like heavy rains.

"We had to work around a number of design challenges," said design project manager Jason Staebell. “We had a limited amount of roadway area to work with and we needed to provide a reliable road for today's uses that would last for years ahead. Meanwhile, we had to make sure we kept the current ecosystem in place and weren't disturbing the habitats of the endangered long-eared bat and rusty patch bumblebee that are common to these types of areas."

Furthermore, the area has been home to Native Americans for more than 1,000 years. Nineteen archeological sites in the area—including six affected by the project—were identified before work began.

The project team engaged Dakota tribes with ancestral connections to the area and worked collaboratively with representatives of four Dakota tribes in Minnesota before much excavation took place. The goal was to minimize adverse effects to artifacts that were unearthed. Tribal representatives joined archaeologists onsite during excavation to observe, share perspectives and help interpret cultural significance of the objects recovered. More than 5,000 artifacts including stone tools, pottery fragments and animal remains were recovered. All of the artifacts found on public land by law went to the Minnesota Historical Society. Artifacts found on private property went back to the landowners with a suggestion to donate them to the historical society.

Looks the same, only better

In addition to using innovative approaches to stabilize soil, the project team took special steps to reestablish native plants to prevent erosion. Introducing non-local native species posed an ecological risk, so the team hired a contractor to collect native seed from the site before construction and seeded it back after construction. That helped retain the pre-existing native species composition, aesthetics, and plant ecotype characteristics and functions for the remnant prairie.

“When we're done with this project, we want it to look like it did before we even got started," said Staebell. “Only, with a better road, new bridge and new shared path to serve the residents of the county better."

In addition to Hennepin County, the following entities contributed to the project's success: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Lower Sioux Indian Community; Prairie Island Indian Community; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Upper Sioux Community; 106 Group; Stantec Consulting Services, Inc.; Standard Contracting, Inc.; and Ames Construction.

Learn more about the Flying Cloud Drive reconstruction at