Nearly 900 acres of public land added in Rice County south of Twin Cities

(Released January 6, 2014)

Nearly 900 acres of new public land south of the Twin Cities will be available for hunting, bird watching and other recreation as a new wildlife management area emerges and another grows, according to The Trust for Public Land and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In Rice County near Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park, The Trust for Public Land purchased a 460-acre property in the Cannon River headwaters from the Koester family, who have farmed or leased-to-farm the land for generations. The Koester prairie property at the new Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area will preserve prairies, grasslands and oak savannah.

Craig Koester, a family member and academic dean at Luther Seminary said, “My siblings and I had the opportunity to grow up where the prairie met the woodland.  Birds and wildlife flourished.  We could enjoy these spaces of discovery and renewal because of the care taken by previous generations.  When facing the decision of what to do with the land, it seemed clear it was our turn to make it available for the generations to come. It is a privilege to do so.”

Near Faribault in Rice County’s Shieldsville Township, 227 acres are being added to the Boyd Sartell Wildlife Management Area, including land along Shields Lake, a primary source of the Cannon River.

Wildlife management areas are part of Minnesota’s outdoor recreation system and are established to protect those lands and waters that have a high potential for wildlife production, public hunting, trapping, fishing, and other compatible recreational uses. There are more than 1,440 wildlife management areas in the state and boundaries of each are marked with bright yellow signs. Signage on the two new parcels is pending.

The Trust for Public Land purchased the properties within the Cannon River headwaters in two transactions in December. Together the properties offer new public outdoor destinations within a short drive of more than half of Minnesota’s population.

“Protecting these properties in a growing region accomplishes important recreation and habitat restoration objectives for Minnesota, and gives new outdoor opportunities to the people nearby that call these areas home,” said Susan Schmidt, The Trust for Public Land’s Minnesota state director. “The waterfowl, wildlife, and native species in each landscape will be well cared for and the public has great new places to visit and treasure.”

The properties were both priorities for the DNR. Population growth, new development and agricultural operations in Rice County intensified the importance of protecting and restoring prairies, grasslands, and wetlands within the Cannon River headwaters.

The properties were both protected with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Reinvest in Minnesota critical habitat account. The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008, which increased sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent. The fund receives one-third of the sales tax dollars and may only be spent to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for game fish and wildlife.

“These are the kind of strong partnerships that not only bring additional dollars to Legacy projects, but will help us make significant gains in prairie and grassland habitat in Minnesota over the next 20 years through the Legacy amendment,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. Learn more online.