The St. Croix County board is expected next week to approve spending $746,000 to buy the land. Calling it a “rare opportunity,” the county’s Community Development and Administration committees recently recommended moving forward with the purchase.
The parcel is one of the largest undeveloped properties along the river in the county. The 53.29 acres includes 1,300 feet of St. Croix River frontage and 2,000 feet of scenic bluffline. Most of it is “natural, undisturbed woodland.”
“(It is) just a gorgeous site. It’s stunning,” Community Development Director Ellen Denzer Denzer said. “For those of us who have been out there and walked it, it’s pretty amazing.”
The acquisition will be paid for out of $2 million in mitigation funds the county received from the federal government as part of the new Stillwater bridge project. The money was intended to replace lands affected by the new bridge, and to preserve land and water, protect scenic views, and provide opportunities for low-impact recreation.
“When they set up this fund, this parcel of land was the parcel of land that the Wisconsin [Department of Transportation], the county, and the DOTs all had in mind, this kind of parcel of land, and in fact this one in particular to protect going into the future,” said Denzer.
The county expects to open the site up with a focus on quiet, non-motorized use. There will be picnic tables, restrooms, and perhaps some scenic overlooks. Boaters will be able to land on the beach. Because the steep bluffs are a fragile landscape with high potential for erosion, use will be limited.
There will also be work to reduce the erosion, helping the health of the St. Croix River. Several gullies are in need of attention to slow down runoff and cut back on the amount of soil and sediment that muddies the river. Denzer said she expects grants could pay for work to improve water conservation, although the Wisconsin DNR could not provide any funding to help with the purchase due to state budget issues.
The owner, 79-years-old retired judge C.A. Richards, is suffering health problems, and has had other offers. Reportedly possessing a strong conservation ethic, he wanted to see it purchased for the public, but said it needed to happen this year or he would have to sell to a private party.
The county board will vote next week, likely approving the new park. For St. Croix River users, what that mostly means is nothing will change whatsoever.
“Not only is it scenic views from the property out to the river but it’s also got very beautiful views for people who are boating on the river and would enjoy this bluffline,” Denzer said.