A growing population little more than an hour south of the lakes area will affect decisions about public land use.
That was one of the trends discussed Friday afternoon at the Public Land Forum at Central Lakes College. A wide range of interests are represented on public lands, including timber, habitat, recreation and aesthetics. Pressure for public land use is part of area growth.
Dave Zumeta, SMART growth coordinator with the DNR, said Minnesota's population is expected to grow but at a slower rate than in past decades. However, Zumeta said that does not mean the growth in the lakes area will be slower.
Between 1995 and 2025 the statewide average population growth is anticipated to be 14 percent. Zumeta said Stearns County is at that average. Sherburne County, also near St. Cloud, is expected to grow by 92 percent, which means almost 50,000 new residents.
"There is going to be relatively rapid growth between the north growth of the Twin Cities and here and a little north of here," Zumeta said, pointing to one of several maps produced for the forum. That population growth and increasing urban center near St. Cloud means the lakes area of central Minnesota will be within an easy afternoon drive of more than 100,000 residents in those rapidly growing counties, Zumeta said.
With more intense use of public land, more conflicts between traditional uses and amenities and visitors is expected.
"I don't think we've seen anything yet," Zumeta said. "We are going to see a lot more conflict in the future."
There are already differing schools of thought. There are those who believe public land should be sold to make more land available and affordable for housing and development. Others believe public land is a valuable asset that should be preserved and even consolidated for better wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
Public land is typically managed for multiple uses -- timber, recreation, habitat and visual quality.
A growing population, rising land prices and a limited resource of the land itself means the public, elected officials and agencies involved in land management will have decisions to make about land use. How to manage land for people who want non-motorized areas to those who want full off-road vehicle access is one emotional issue in a mix of public land uses.
About 40 percent of the area is in public land. That land base was created primarily as land came into public ownership for non-payment of property taxes.
Federal land in the area is concentrated in the Chippewa National Forest. And the largest concentration of county land is north of the Whitefish lake chain. County and state lands are also concentrated in the hilly area west and north of Gull Lake, along with many small scattered tracts.
Vast as it seems, the land is a limited resource with many competing interests. Uses include forest products, clean water, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, scenic preservation, development areas and waste disposal and treatment.
Recreation is a growing use. And use of land for wastewater treatment is now an issue.
About 90 people attended the forum, which was sponsored by The Dispatch and co-sponsored by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
"It's a huge resource that belongs to all of us," moderator George Orning said at the session's beginning. "... As you build a city in the land, these are issues and, quite frankly, they are not easy issues and there may not be one right answer."
Additional information and issues discussed at the forum will be covered in future news stories.
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