ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis County Board votes for township to take over disputed parcel of land

A plan to give an 80-acre plot of county-managed forest to Fredenberg Township, instead of allowing it to be purchased by neighboring residents or an adjacent youth adventure camp, passed the full St. Louis County Board on Tuesday.

A plan to give an 80-acre plot of county-managed forest to Fredenberg Township, instead of allowing it to be purchased by neighboring residents or an adjacent youth adventure camp, passed the full St. Louis County Board on Tuesday.
The board’s resolution backs a proposal by the township to acquire the land for free and manage it as a township park.
The so-called “free conveyance” of the tax-
forfeited land, technically owned by the state and managed by the county, still must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Revenue commissioner.
Several county commissioners said having the township manage the land might be the best compromise for an issue that has divided local residents. Town officials have formed a committee to help draft a management plan for the land if it becomes a park.
Efforts to add specific protections for current uses of the park in the county resolution, such as mandating continued access to snowmobile and dog sled trails, failed Tuesday.
“It’s not this county board’s job to tell townships or town boards what to do,” said Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township.
But without those protections, supporters of the Positive Energy Outdoors youth camp say, giving the land to the township leaves the camp’s future uncertain. The camp needs to cross the 80-acre parcel to access other land for many of its activities, such as dogsledding.
Letting the township decide uses of the land is “all about how to get Positive Energy to stop doing what they are doing on this land. … It’s a thinly veiled effort” to stifle the camp, said Andy Fena of Duluth. “And it’s not right.”
Blake Cazier, co-director of Positive Energy Outdoors with his wife, Stephanie Love, said he hopes that the township will consider the camp’s needs as plans for the town park advance.
“We have concerns,” Cazier told the county board Tuesday. “But we’re hopeful.”
The issue surfaced in August after the St. Louis County Land and Minerals Department approved a plan to trade the 80 acres of county land in Fredenberg Township to Cazier and Love, who operate the camp on 35 acres they own next to the county land. The couple in turn would have purchased 200 acres of less-expensive Potlatch forestland elsewhere in the county, and given that to the county in exchange.
But the land swap turned into a contentious battle, with some people saying they wanted the chance to bid at a public auction in which the 80 acres would go to the highest bidder. Some of those interested in acquiring the land said the camp didn’t deserve special treatment. Camp officials said they couldn’t afford a bidding war and that, without the 80 acres available for dogsledding and other activities, the camp would have to close.
County commissioners voted 4-3 last month to table a motion to sell the land. The board also took no action on a potential land swap, which, for now, leaves the parcel as county-managed land open for anyone to use.
In recent weeks momentum has built for the third plan - giving the land to Fredenberg Township, where it would become a public park of sorts. What remains uncertain is what activities might be allowed on the parkland.
The land has been appraised at $89,000.
Cazier and Love have been using trails on the county land since 1997, and say access to the 80 acres is critical for Positive Energy programs that introduce more than 1,000 children to outdoor activities every year - from kayaking and rock climbing to dogsledding, sleigh rides, hiking and more. More than three-fourths of those kids are from Twin Ports-area schools, including Duluth and Hermantown, while some come from as far away as Mexico.
If the township failed to manage the land as a public park, the land would revert back to state ownership and county management, presumably to be sold at auction.
County nixes change for Twin Lake near Ely
In other action Tuesday, the county board declined to vote on a resolution seeking reclassification of Twin Lake near Ely from “natural environment” to “recreation/development.”
The reclassification, which would be made by the state Department of Natural Resources, was sought by a developer who owns a lot on the lake that can’t be developed under current guidelines.
Several landowners on the lake had testified against the change, saying the developer was trying to change the rules to increase his investment. The Town of Morse board of supervisors voted unanimously to oppose the change. County commissioners said they were backing the town board.
The resolution died without a vote for lack of any second support.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.