Crow Wing State Park's natural and cultural resources will be enhanced by the recent acquisition of Mississippi River frontage linking the park with the Paul Bunyan Trail.
With funding from Centex Homes and the McKnight Foundation, the Conservation Fund worked in cooperation with the DNR, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota and the Paul Bunyan Trail Association to acquire 213 acres of recreation lands from Potlatch Corp.
This marks the third and final phase in an effort to protect nearly 400 acres of forestland and more than two miles of riverfront for Crow Wing State Park.
"Crow Wing State Park is among one of the most important natural areas in Minnesota," said Tom Duffus, the Conservation Fund's Minnesota state director. "Thanks to the extraordinary leadership, vision and support of our partners, we are creating new areas for public recreation along the Mississippi River and ensuring that the Crow Wing's important natural and historic resources are preserved for future generations."
Located at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers, Crow Wing State Park is a mix of woodlands, oak savannas and prairies that serve as a haven for wildlife, including the rare Blanding's turtle. The park contains remnants of a frontier town and a section of the old Woods Trail that served ox cart traffic and carried supplies to and from St. Paul.
"With this final purchase, canoeing and boating experiences are preserved along this pristine portion of the Mississippi River. This acquisition has contributed to the enhancement of outdoor recreation in the Brainerd area for many generations to come," said Teresa Thews, real estate program coordinator for the Division of Parks and Recreation, DNR. "Additionally, Crow Wing State Park may become an overnight destination point for bicyclists using the Paul Bunyan Trail."
The newly protected forest links the park with the Paul Bunyan Trail, connects wildlife migration corridors and expands public lands for hiking and birdwatching.
"The signature of the Paul Bunyan Trail is its woods and waters," said Terry McGaughey, volunteer coordinator for the Paul Bunyan Trail Association. "At 110 miles, it passes nine rivers and streams and along the shorelines of 21 lakes. Now with the addition of the Mississippi River frontage the trail truly is mighty."
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar agreed. "While leading the eighth annual Ride with Jim bike excursion this summer, I had the opportunity to observe firsthand the new southern extension of the Paul Bunyan Trail," said Oberstar. "From the magnificent vistas it affords of the Mississippi River, to the grand mature Norway pines and oak savannas, to the resplendent prairies, this extension will greatly enhance the recreational trail experience."
The Paul Bunyan Trail and the adjoining Blue Ox Trail wind through 210 miles of gently rolling landscape and pine forest and form one of the longest contiguous railroad bed conversion trails in the nation.
"The Paul Bunyan Trail is used by local residents for exercise and transportation, as well as by visitors who want to experience the beauty and tranquility of the region," said Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Parks & Trails Council. "Our 3,000 members are thrilled about connecting Crow Wing State Park to Baxter using the Paul Bunyan Trail. Projects like this begin to realize the Parks & Trails' vision of an interconnected system of parks and trails across Minnesota."
A portion of the funding for the acquisition was provided through the Centex Homes Land Legacy Fund, a collaborative program with the Conservation Fund that has already provided more than $1 million this year for land conservation projects across the country. This is the fourth of eight projects that the Land Legacy Fund will help protect this year.
"Supporting conservation projects like Crow Wing State Park is representative of our company-wide commitment to the preservation of native habitats and sensitive lands," said Scott Richter, president of Centex Homes' Minnesota division. "We want to enhance the communities in which we build and also leave a lifelong legacy of preserving natural and cultural resources as well as enhancing recreation areas for all Minnesotans to enjoy."
The acquisition is part of the Conservation Fund's broader effort to address conservation needs in the Mississippi River watershed. Thanks to a lead grant from the McKnight Foundation, the Conservation Fund, through its Mississippi River Revolving Fund, provides loans to nonprofit organizations and government agencies to aid in the protection of land along the main stem of the river or along key tributaries, as well as greenways that are part of larger regional projects in the 10 states of the Mississippi River Corridor from Minnesota to Louisiana.
Since 2003, the fund has worked closely with Potlatch and its conservation partners to transfer forestland recognized as having a high value for wildlife and recreation to the state for long-term public stewardship.
The Conservation Fund and its partners have protected nearly 5,000 acres using the Mississippi River Revolving Fund and 3,000 acres in Minnesota.
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