A large tract of land along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway has been protected in perpetuity, thanks to several partners who worked together to purchase it from private ownership and donate it to the public. Stretching about three miles north to south, the area includes boat accesses, campsites, and wild country that gives a strong sense of solitude to this part of the river.
The parcel was acquired with funds provided by the 2008 Legacy Amendment, which the nonprofit Trust for Public Land used to purchase the 729 acres from Xcel Energy. The power company and its predecessor, Northern States Power, had owned it for more than 100 years. The Trust for Public Land then handed it to the Department of Natural Resources to add to the nearby Chengwatana State Forest.
For the nonprofit, the land is valuable for its multiple benefits: protecting land, water, and people — the core of the organization’s mission. The acreage includes forests, wetlands, ponds, and creeks. It provides valuable habitat for imperiled wildlife species, and new opportunities for outdoor recreation.
“it’s just not every day, it’s not every week, it’s not every year that you protect 730 acres along a great river and it’s a great, huge win for the people of Minnesota,” said Susan Schimdt, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Trust for Public Land.
The new public land is not directly on the river because the National Park Service owns an approximately 400-foot corridor next to the water. But the property adjoins the federal land, extending the protected swath another three-quarters of a mile in places. It also expands an already broad bi-state swath of protected land open to the public and wildlife.
“The benefits of public land projects like this are tremendous, providing clean water and air, high quality habitat, and recreational opportunities,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. “We look forward to managing this land to meet Minnesoans’ recreation, conservation and economic needs into the future.”
The land is located in the northeastern corner of Chisago County, east of Rush City. Not only will the acquisition extend Chengwatana State Forest to the south, on the other side of the St. Croix is a Governor Knowles State Forest, including a unique State Natural Area, more National Park Service property, significant acres of county forest, and the Fish Lake Wildlife Management Area.
The Trust for Public Land paid Xcel Energy $1.75 million for the land, the appraised fair market value, thanks to a grant funded by Minnesota taxpayers. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council approved the funding in 2018 to come from the 2008 Legacy Amendment approved by voters, which increased the state sales tax by 3/8 of a cent for 25 years. Wild Rivers Conservancy also assisted with the project.
Schmidt said it had taken two years to complete the project, with everyone needing to carefully conduct due diligence. For The Trust for Public Land, it was very worthwhile work.
“We prioritize lands that are critically important for the environment, in this case for wildlife, andcarbon sequestration, and water quality,” Schmidt said. “It’s about land and people and the environment, and everything benefits in this case.”
The land will be open to hiking, hunting, and other activities. Because of stipulations on the grant from the state, motorized vehicles will not be allowed. Other parts of the State Forest offer more than 15 miles of dedicated ATV trails, as well as an extensive road system.
More than 75 percent of the St. Croix River’s heavily forested watershed is privately owned. Woodlands provide priceless wildlife habitat, as well as helping protect clean water and healthy rivers. Protecting more of this landscape will provide perpetual benefits for people and the planet.
Video provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The speaker is Jeremy Fauskee, Sandstone Area Forest Supervisor.