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Baxter City Council: Members approve 2 parcels for bow hunting

The Baxter City Council and city staff deliberate whether or not to allow bow hunting in city limits -- two properties passed muster, while the remaining four still await a verdict. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER—Bucking precedent in recent years, the Baxter City Council unanimously opted to designate two parcels open for bow hunting, while leaving three others on the shelf for discussions down the road.

Listed as Site Area One and Site Area Two, these areas would open properties pocketed in residential areas—established neighborhoods—versus properties more in open country at the outskirts of the city.

The council was privy to a pair of presentations Tuesday, Sept. 5—headlined on one side by Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted, who argued against changing the zoning ordinances; while, on the other side, Baxter resident Justin Barrick argued for opening these areas to bow hunters.

In general, proponents argued that skyrocketing deer populations—which increase the risk for tick-based diseases, foliage and property damage, as well as vehicular crashes—are best addressed by increasing hunter access in the absence of natural predators to counteract and balance deer populations growth. In addition to that, Barrick noted, it would be difficult for the city to acquire grants and other forms of federal or state funding if it continued to limit the usage of its properties, some of which were explicitly invested in by entities like Crow Wing County for hunting purposes.

In general, detractors (backed by the recommendation of the city staff) opposed opening the ares to bow hunters on the grounds of public safety—an added risk, they noted, in areas with houses, trails, public roadways and other high-traffic amenities in close proximity. In addition to that, Exsted noted, it's been the general practice of city staff to either expand or reduce zones open to bow hunting that are already adjacent to other bow hunting zones.

Despite these misgivings, there was widespread support by property owners near these zones—in one case, for Site One, accruing signatures from every single affected property owner without a single dissent.

Mayor Darrel Olson said he was impressed by the overwhelming support in this regard.

"I'm just amazed that you got 26 people to sign a petition around that field that don't mind arrows coming in their living rooms," Olson said. "I just think that's amazing."

With that in mind, during Tuesday's meeting the council considered six sites to open up for public bow hunting usage. These isolated parcels, some of which are nestled in residential properties, buck that precedent. Primarily, the discussion revolved around sites one and two:

• Site One: A 7-acre parcel off Memorywood Drive, to the west of White Sand Lake, it is surrounded by residential properties—although, Exsted observed, city staff had received 25 signatures by surrounding property owners in support of making it a bow hunting area. It was also noted the properties to the north and south would serve as a buffer, thereby making the zone about double the size of the contended area.

• Site Two: Located between Highway 2010 and Perch Lake, just west of the John Deere Implement Dealer, Site Two is about 14 acres. It is surrounded by open vacant property for the most part, with commercial parcels to the north. Olson expressed concerns regarding how hunters will know where they cannot hunt, with the oddly shaped boundaries of the zone, compared to an easily-defined rectangular parcel. Property owner Steve Rehnblom has proposed adding two of his properties to the north and west to the Archery Only registry, thereby making it 27 acres in total.

• Site Three: A city-owned property designated as open space parkland by Grand Oaks Drive and Inglewood Drive, encompassing about 52 acres of wooded and marsh land—though the area is surrounded by medium to high-density residential property.

• Site Four: About 16 acres of city-owned property west of Inglewood Drive and north of Highway 210, mostly wetland, that forms part of the city's stormwater ponding system. Two churches (north and west) border the property, with residential development on the east side and northwestern corner. Highway 210 forms the southern boundary.

• Site Five A: The northern portion of about 9 acres consists of the north half of the Whipple Beach Recreation Area and is owned by the city of Baxter. It is bordered by residential properties on the north and east sides, with Whipple Lake to the west.

• Site Five B: The southern portion of about 88 acres on land owned by Crow Wing County. It is currently part of a lease between the county and Camp Vanasek, which has requested the property be hunter free in the past.

Council member Todd Holman—describing himself as an "average" bow hunter—said it may seem somewhat risky to allow hunting near residential areas, but bow hunting is a practice and culture that generally acts well with respect to nature and neighbors. While these designations can be changed from year to year, why not give it a shot, he said.

"I think that's how it is with archery hunters, there's precision, they're hunters," Holman said. "They know the animal, they know the behavior, they know the habitat and they know the skill."

"As a voice of one—why not try it?" Holman later added. "If we've got 26 people that say it's the right thing to do in the neighborhood, why don't we try it and see how it goes?"

Expressing his position as being against spot zoning—or, arbitrarily favoring certain property owners or those who have access, instead of maintaining a consistent, fair policy, council member Mark Cross said he was against allowing bow hunting inside the city of Baxter.

"While I'm a hunter too, I'm not for hunting inside the city," said Cross, who ultimately voted in line with his peers on the council. "As long as I've been on the council, we've been pushing towards a concentric circle hunting map like we have now and I think we ought to stick with it."

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