From just beyond the makeshift access at Green’s Point on the Mississippi River north of Brainerd, you get a feel for the chunk of land that is the Mississippi River Northwoods Habitat Complex project.
And why a good-sized group of supporters is so passionate about protecting this land.
Recently, a small, casual boat tour took a half-dozen interested folks along the north edge of the 1,988-acre property just north of the Brainerd airport. The occasional boat could be seen tucked deep into one of the many back bays in and along the property.
“Pan fishing,” one of the two boat captains for the tour said matter-of-factly.
And those with an eye for wild rice got an eyeful at points all along this stretch. Although far from ripe on this mid-August day, wild rice thickets lined the river here — as will wild rice harvesters in the not-so-distant future. It’s a ricing haven.
The tour was a short one — rain was in the air — but the amenities were obvious, featuring more than two miles of pristine, undeveloped shoreline along the Mississippi. For those trumpeting the project, it was just a matter of getting the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to take notice.
As of early this last week, it appears it has.
According to Becca Nash of the Trust for Public Land, which is spearheading the project along with numerous partners, the council graded the project ninth out of 43 that are seeking funding through the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Next up is Nash’s presentation at 5 p.m. Sept. 7 in St. Paul. The 12 council members then will make individual recommendations by Sept. 16 and a decision on what projects should receive the approximately $90 million in funding will be determined at a Sept. 20 council meeting, Nash said. The Mississippi River Northwoods Habitat Complex project is seeking $14.5 million to purchase the property from the Potlatch Corporation so as to get the land into public ownership and protect it from development.
If that first ranking of projects by the council was the last say, the MRNHC project would likely be in — requests of the top nine projects totaled nearly $76 million.
“I had a sense (the project would fare well in the first round). But it’s good to know,” Nash said.
Each council member scored each of the 43 projects that applied for $207 million in funding, with a maximum score of 50 points. The DNR Fish and Wildlife’s Conservation Partners Legacy Grant program had the highest average score at 42.4. The MRNHC project averaged 38.4. The Nos. 5 though 10 projects were separated by a mere 1.2 points.
“I am optimistic and happy to hear about the rankings, but we’re not taking it for granted,” Nash said. “There’s still work to do.”
A public meeting to weigh interest in the project earlier this month at Northland Arboretum in Baxter drew 30-plus people, including representatives from a number of interest groups and the project leads — Anglers for Habitat, the Brainerd Chapter of Delta Waterfowl, the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation, the Cuyuna Lakes Trail Association and the Trust for Public Land.
Facilitators Nash and Todd Holman of The Nature Conservancy fielded questions from those with an interest in hunting, fishing, ATVs, snowmobiling, bicycling and cross-country skiing. According to a release, land within the MRNHC is home to all of those interests — and much more.
“I think it’s a great project and there’s a ton of support,” Nash said.
“The project speaks for itself.”