An expensive but key parcel of land near the Mount Ashwabay recreation area near Bayfield has been purchased to be set aside for conservation.

The 160-acre parcel, the last in a series of acquisitions near the ski hill, was acquired by Bayfield County with $240,000 from the state's Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant program and a $40,000 donation from Murphy Oil USA, which operates an oil refinery in Superior.

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The final purchase leaves 1,040 acres around the ski and recreation area protected from future development, said Ruth Oppedahl, executive director of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.

Bayfield County, which added $169,000 to the purchase price, will hold title to the newly acquired land.

The overall 1,040 acres is held jointly by the county, the ski hill authority and the state, which has designated a natural area on the site. All of the area will remain closed to development, Oppedahl told the News Tribune.

"It's 42 K of fantastic ski trails and some of the most beautiful views and land in the area,'' she said. "It was expensive, but if we had waited even until now to start, it would have been a lot more expensive. That's the problem we face with such rapidly escalating land values.''

The purchase of the final parcel allows for continued access to more than 30 miles of hiking and ski trails and secures an important parcel adjacent to the Mount Ashwabay downhill ski area as well as the summer home of the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua.