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Crow Wing County Board: Woods Bay project nears completion

Land surrounding Woods Bay on Roosevelt Lake near Outing is slated to become part of an aquatic management area with funding from the state's Outdoor Heritage Fund. The shoreline of Woods Bay was identified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as sensitive shoreland and the lake is home to tullibee populations. Source: Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation

A parcel of land surrounding a sensitive bay in northern Crow Wing County will soon become an aquatic management area.

More than 100 acres of land on the south side of Woods Bay in Roosevelt Lake, owned for 65 years by one family, is on its way to being purchased by the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation.

The purchase, a fact sheet presented to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday stated, will ensure "continued pristine water quality for Lake Roosevelt by preventing future development, a superb fishery of many species, a healthy wildlife population, and high quality recreational opportunities, including fishing, hiking, hunting, bird watching and other minimally invasive activities for public enjoyment."

The project received funding through a proposal to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the group tasked with approving projects to be paid for by the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is one of four funds established when voters passed the 2008 Legacy Amendment, raising the state sales tax to support the outdoors, clean water and the arts.

Lindsey Ketchel, executive director of the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation, said Woods Bay was identified for protection due to its sensitive shoreland and the lake's population of tullibee. Lakes with tullibee, also known as cisco, tend to be clean and deep and are typically more sensitive to ecological change than other lakes, she said. Tullibee are bait fish, a preferred meal of walleye, and their presence represents a balanced lake ecosystem.

"About two years ago, we decided to focus our efforts on protecting those," Ketchel said.

Those protection efforts focus on preserving shoreline from development, a strategy proven to prevent degradation of water quality, she said.

"You can develop 25 percent of the watershed and leave about 75 percent of that watershed in a stable condition," Ketchel said. "In finding that balance, you're able to protect the water quality and maintain strong fisheries."

The project was first proposed for funding in 2013, although a snag in determining ownership of two points of land jutting into Cass County delayed its finalization. Ketchel said the state attorney general recently made the determination the land was owned by either the state or federal government. The murky ownership history of those points revealed more than 40 similar pieces of land along the Cass-Crow Wing county line. Ketchel told the county board these were parcels in Cass County, not Crow Wing.

Once the land purchase is finalized, the parcel will be transferred to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to be managed as an aquatic management area. Marc Bacigalupi, area supervisor of fisheries in the Brainerd DNR office, said it would be managed similarly to a wildlife management area with particular emphasis on the shoreline.

The land will be open to the public for recreational use, but this will not include motorized use, Bacigalupi said. Pre-existing walking trails will be maintained and hunting will be permitted, he added.

"Our real interest is up here," said Ketchel while pointing toward the bay on the map, "up in these waters. There's some good potential for musky spawning and other efforts."

Commissioner Paul Koering asked when the land was transferred to state ownership, whether Crow Wing County would receive payments in lieu of taxes, otherwise known as PILT. Ketchel confirmed the state would make payments to offset the loss in property taxes. Ketchel also noted the foundation's intentions were not to prevent all development—just to protect areas that will have the most impact on conservation efforts.

"You also need to develop, because there's not a lot of economic activity happening besides seasonal residents," Ketchel said.

Protection of natural resources, though, protects the reason why many call northern Minnesota their home, she added.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

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