CAMP RIPLEY -- Some of Minnesota's finest troops, landscapes, flora, fauna and wildlife populations are found within Camp Ripley.
For this reason, as well as for its proactive approach in opening its gates to the public, Camp Ripley was chosen as the site for the first National Guard Conservation Workshop. Hosted by the Minnesota National Guard, the workshop took place May 12-16 at Breezy Point Convention Center and Camp Ripley and brought to Minnesota 170 natural resource professionals from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The agenda was set by the National Guard and focused on how the military can co-exist with natural resource programs and the general public on military reservations, which contain some of the most pristine land left in the nation.
"We lobbied to have the conference here because we felt we had a lot to offer," said Marty Skoglund, head of the Camp Ripley environmental staff. "Ripley has set the stage for other military installations. If it works here it will work somewhere else, too. Col. Terry Dorenbush opened the conference with thought provoking remarks about the relationship between military training and sound natural resource management. Our adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Eugene Andreotti, said in his opening remarks that what we have here isn't just good science, but sound policy from a political, social and military standpoint. People were in awe to hear this message from Maj. Gen. Andreotti and subsequently requested a video tape of his opening remarks to share with their senior leadership."
Attendees also were in awe of the Mississippi River. The environmental staff made arrangements for up to 24 people to float the river in canoes from Historic Fort Ripley to Highway 115. Fifty-eight people signed up.
"If we had 100 canoes we could have used every one of them," Skoglund said. "While at times we might take the river for granted, for people from other states it's a tremendous vision of what the Mississippi River really is. People from the south know the river as a big, murky body of water. The representative from Mississippi went to Itasca State Park and walked in the river. Now he has a completely different picture of what Minnesota and the Mississippi River are."
Aside from its natural beauty and its importance to the ecology of Camp Ripley, the river also serves another important purpose: it serves as a valuable natural buffer between the military reservation and private land. At many other reservations around the nation this type of natural buffer is missing and encroachment from private development is beginning to take a toll.
"The land use challenges facing other installations is something we really took an interest in," Skoglund said. "For example, Camp Blanding near Jacksonville, Florida is getting pressured by housing developments on its boundaries. At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, one of the primary firing points can no longer be used because a condominium went up on the other side of the fence. People want the privacy they get near a military reservation but then become annoyed at the dust, the noise, the vehicles and all the other activities that go on. In some cases the military has had to sacrifice its mission to satisfy the public. We left this conference knowing that it's imperative that we con-tinue to partner with Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties to avoid land use conflicts such as these."
Camp Ripley not only has the Mississippi River on its entire eastern boundary but the Crow Wing River on the north and large, private land holdings on the west and south. But a growing trend is for large land holders to sub-divide their properties for private housing, a trend that must be monitored carefully to avoid future conflicts between military activities in Camp Ripley and the people living near its borders.
"We'll need to find political compromises that work," Skoglund said. "We're evaluating various alternatives to achieve compromise, including success stories of what's worked elsewhere, specifically in Florida and North Carolina. Now when we attend community meetings we'll be better prepared to let people know the challenges we face for the security of the long-term mission of Camp Ripley. We need to find a way to keep peace with our neighbors and still keep peace with our mission."
Eco-tourism was another topic of interest at the conference, Skoglund said. Eco-tourists are people who travel to see birds, trees and flowers they can't see at home. These tourists make up a greater portion of the people who use our natural resources, studies have found. Presently, the only people among the public who enjoy annual forays into Camp Ripley are hunters who take part in the various deer hunts. But after seeing a presentation on the growth of eco-tourism by Kathy Van Rissegham of the Little Falls Visitors and Convention Bureau, Skoglund said Camp Ripley eventually might expand its community outreach program to include these types of activities.
"Bird watchers might be able to come in for a weekend," Skoglund said. "It would be another opportunity for the public to use the resource."
Conference attendees visited Camp Ripley on Thursday, May 15 to see an ecological burn, a Gyro-Trac (machine that clears vegetation) in action, Historic Fort Ripley, the animal survey monitoring program and a slide presentation at the Camp's Environmental Learning Center.
"I think they walked away with a knowledge of the importance of community outreach," Skoglund said.
Another conference is planned for 2005 at Michigan's Camp Grayling or Mississippi's Camp Shelby.
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