It's with mixed emotions that I write about the Brainerd Lakes Forest Legacy project. I'm elated that 4,800 acres of Crow Wing County land will remain open to the public. But while researching the story I learned that 950 acres in Morrison County are being closed.
The land in Morrison County is owned by Potlatch, which also owns the land in the Legacy project. But while the Crow Wing County parcels will be open forever, the Morrison County parcels are being leased to private parties and will be closed.
This from the Potlatch Web site: "Lessees have exclusive access to the leased tract and do not have to allow access to others. But we encourage our lessees to work with their neighbors and others who have historically used the land for recreational activities like berry picking, walking their dog, etc.
"Lessees are strongly encouraged to work with them to allow access for incidental activities that do not interfere with hunting."
In other words, if you hunted on that 950 acres you must go elsewhere.
I've lost access to land in the past, but losing that Potlatch land in northern Morrison County is tough because that's where I went to the Bowhunting School of Hard Knocks. The first deer stand I ever hung was in those woods and what a pitiful attempt it was, being in the precise location where every deer within a square mile could spot me. With my buddies I stumbled around in those woods for years before I became even a semi-proficient bowhunter, but with 950 acres in which to stumble I had plenty of room to make my mistakes and not interfere with others.
The land offered other delights besides hunting. The highest point in Morrison County is located there, and on a clear day you can see beautiful downtown Pillager.
Large, unbroken tracts of land like that are getting hard to find. Where is the nearest 950 acres you can walk through without trespassing on private property?
It can be found up north, but in Morrison County that Potlatch land is the last to go. Now Morrison is a county of smaller tracts, all owned or leased by individuals.
Timber companies will continue to lease their lands. Potlatch is the first to do so, but don't be surprised if Boise Cascade follows suit. Timber companies are under strong pressure to maximize profits and to simply grow trees on their land isn't enough.
Hunters are partly to blame. Potlatch got tired of seeing its lands littered with trash, much of it left by hunters. Over the years on that land in Morrison County I've literally seen the kitchen sink and the bathroom toilet. The toilet could be seen from Highway 1. There was a joke that if you couldn't make it from the Randall Municipal to KC's in Pillager you could always stop and use the biffy in Potlatch. Thankfully, somebody finally hauled it away.
I discussed this with Gary Drotts, DNR area wildlife manager in Brainerd, and he agreed the garbage was out of control.
"Potlatch has dealt with huge dumpings," Drotts said. "Mountains of trash, dishwashers, sinks and sofas have all been dumped on their land."
Lessees will have more respect for the land and for that I'm thankful. But I regret to see the Morrison County branch of the Bowhunting School of Hard Knocks closed forever.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862
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