With help from partners, NCTA preserved a mile of trail and eliminated a nearly one-mile-long road walk.
Project Quick Facts:
Area secured: 242 acres
Trail preserved: 1 mile
Road walk removed: ¾ mile
Funding partners: Pheasants Forever; Carlton County, MN; NCTA
Land manager: Carlton County, MN
Cost of Acquisition: $327,650 ($312,650 grant + $15,000 match)
One landowner’s reticence to provide an easement or sell to the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) put a kink in the National Park Service’s planned route for the Trail on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
As a result, after exiting an area known as the MacQuarrie Wetlands, NCNST hikers were forced to trace a former railroad bed that was converted into a multi-use recreational trail known as the Saunders Grade State Trail for a short stint before beginning a less-than-scenic, three-quarter-mile-long walk along a railroad service road, including one crossing of a busy railroad at the state line.
Bill Menke and Peter Nordgren, two members of the North Country Trail Association’s (NCTA) Brule-St. Croix Chapter, have been working for more than a year to obtain an easement from Enbridge Inc., an energy company that owns a portion of the land in the area as part of an oil pipeline, to get the NCNST to an off-road trail for a portion of that road walk. Those negotiations are still in process and, even with that easment in place, much of the road walk would have remained unless another option came to light.
In the spring of 2019, Nordgren noticed a “For Sale” sign on a 242-acre piece of property on the Minnesota side of the state line that offered a potential solution to their continuity problem. Initial listing prices were high, so NCTA contacted potential partners on both sides of the state line to gauge interest in working to secure the property. Through this outreach, they identified Greg Bernu, Land Commissioner of Carlton County, MN, as a collaborator.
Like NCTA, Carlton County, MN was unable to purchase the property at the listed asking price. Bernu worked with NCTA to identify and recruit Pheasants Forever, a grantmaking conservation partner, to provide funds. Pheasants Forever is a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul, MN that is “dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife.”
Pheasants Forever awarded a $312,650 grant to NCTA and Carlton County following their submission of a joint proposal. NCTA and Carlton County also provided $7,500 each to meet the required financial match for the award to purchase the land. The land is now held and managed by Carlton County, MN. Ultimately, the project conserved over 240 acres of habitat, viewshed, and watershed and permanently protected a full mile of The North Country Trail. Once the work on that section of Trail is complete, the project will redirect Trail users from the three-quarter-mile-long walk along a road to a safer and more scenic trail on forested lands.
The NCTA is currently at work building the new section of Trail and they anticipate that their work on the project will come to an end in late 2022.