Supporters hope to preserve a corridor of forested land next to the Mississippi River and the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota Tuesday sought support and received it from the Crow Wing County Board for the conservation effort. The conservancy is seeking federal funding to purchase about 500 acres of Potlatch land in phases to be completed in 2011. The project involves direct land purchases and easements.
"The parcel proposed for acquisition will protect over two miles of river frontage in one of the most rapidly developing areas of the Mississippi River corridor in Minnesota," The Nature Conservancy stated in its application. "The rapidly developing Baxter-Brainerd area has made all land attractive to development and the currently undeveloped forested land adjacent to the airport is zoned for development."
Putting the land in conservation would allow the airport to grow and create a multi-use trail corridor along the river as an extension of the Cuyuna Lakes Trail by Riverton. Beyond multiple recreation uses from hunting to hiking, the conservancy notes the importance of retaining a wildlife migration area and maintaining a large forest ecosystem.
"This is a piece of property that has many possible potential recreational uses, as well as transportation-related uses," said Mark Liedl, county land services director. "The county has long considered it an important acquisition if it could be achieved. ... This would be a unique and extraordinary opportunity for us if funding were available to purchase this property."
The project is expected to cost $10 million with 80 percent of that requested from federal funding with the DNR helping to apply for up to $2 million in state matching funds.
The conservancy is submitting the plan as a high priority project for 2009 Surface Transportation Authorization Act and presenting it and letters of support to Congressman Jim Oberstar.
Todd Holman, The Nature Conservancy Central Minnesota Program director, said this would ultimately protect a wonderful forested river corridor.
Doug Morris, county waste management director, spoke in favor of the project. Morris said preserving the land instead of developing it would protect the county's investment in the airport and its landfill. Liedl said Potlatch land is being rezoned for development and there are three or four major parcels that are clearly thought of as high value recreation.
"And this is one of them," Liedl said.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede said while he supported the conservancy in the proposal there are concerns about removing Potlatch lands from the tax rolls. Potlatch lands have been a real revenue source for the counties and if they become public land without tax benefits that's a significant shift, Thiede said, noting that will be money the county won't have to use in its budget for many things.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said while the county had numerous acres of public land, it doesn't have acres and acres of the kind of land represented in this Mississippi River corridor section.
"Once it's gone, it is gone," Nystrom said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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