Unique Moose Lake habitat preserved for generations
Realizing a dream of creating a nature sanctuary along the busy Interstate 35 corridor has been a bucket list item for Minnesota nature photographer Craig Blacklock and his wife Honey. For years, the Blacklocks have acquired acreage in the Moose Lake area with the intention of someday finding a permanent way to protect the land from development. Earlier this week, this dream became a reality on their land located in Carlton and Pine counties.
Working with the Minnesota Land Trust, the natural beauty and exceptional wildlife habitat found on the Blacklock property is now preserved into perpetuity, creating a large complex of undeveloped land totaling nearly 700 acres. It's part of a much larger forested complex of several thousand acres of protected forestland and other habitat areas, including Moose Lake State Park and Minnesota School Trust Lands.
"We look for opportunities to protect property adjacent to state or federal land," stated Minnesota Land Trust Executive Director Kris Larson, "because it effectively increases the habitat value of the entire parcel."
Portions of that land have been used as a nature sanctuary and the Blacklock's former artist-in-residency program, providing a quiet and inspirational setting for writers and artists to work for weeks or months at a stretch. However, as funding dwindled in the last several years, the Blacklocks were forced to look at alternatives including selling parcels of land. Before taking this step, Craig wanted to ensure the wildlife habitat and undeveloped character of the land would be protected regardless of the ownership of the property.
"We are thankful the Minnesota Land Trust was able to find the funding to be able to turn a real quandary into a permanent solution that protects the land from development," noted Craig. While the Blacklocks may sell some of the parcels in the future, the natural characteristics of the land will be protected by the conservation easements held by the Minnesota Land Trust. Because private ownership is maintained, property taxes will continue to be paid.
The property is well worth protecting. Rolling hills, hardwood and pine forest, wetlands and grasslands provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and plants including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, wood turtles and sharp-tailed sparrows. Undisturbed wetlands help maintain the water quality of the Kettle River watershed and provide habitat for a variety of aquatic plants, animals and natural communities.
The Blacklocks are no strangers to conservation easements. Two years ago they protected a nature sanctuary parcel adjacent to Split Rock Light House on Lake Superior's North Shore thanks to funding through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. That property includes portions of the Superior Hiking Trail and the Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail. A Lake Superior Water Trail public access canoe and kayak campsite is protected by this easement.
Funding for the acquisition of the Moose Lake conservation easement has been provided by Minnesota's Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). Specifically, this conservation easement was funded through the Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program. The purpose of this grant is to provide funding to acquire permanent conservation easements protecting habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.
The Minnesota Land Trust is a non-profit organization seeking to permanently protect Minnesota's natural and scenic heritage. The Land Trust has now completed 467 conservation projects permanently protecting more than 43,500 acres of natural and scenic lands and more than 930,000 feet of fragile shoreline. More information can be found at http://www.mnland.org.
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or other qualified agency that permanently limits certain uses of land in order to protect its conservation values. Landowners continue to own and enjoy the land and pay property taxes. Once created, the conservation easement is binding on all future owners of the property. More information can be found online at http://www.mnland.org.