Property along the Mississippi River near Crosby will become Crow Wing County land after the board of commissioners approved the property's acquisition and donation to the county.

The Trust for Public Land intends to purchase 156 acres from Scott and Jody Erickson. The board agreed to the plan at its Tuesday, Feb. 26, meeting but not without some hesitation from a few commissioners.

"An appraisal has been completed and a landowner is interested, and so now we are here today for formal approval by the Crow Wing County Board to accept this acquisition," said Tim Terrill, Mississippi Headwaters Board executive director.

The private property is within a large expanse of public land ownership. County-managed forest entirely borders the property along its western and southern boundaries for a distance of 1.5 miles.

"We have worked with the landowners and have reached an agreement with them to acquire the property and it is our hope to be able to convey it to the county, donate it to the county," said Bob McGillivray, senior project manager at The Trust for Public Land.

County land services would manage the donated property for the public's use and benefit, in accordance with the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund and a to-be-agreed upon property management plan that outlines trail and other usage policies.

Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund

The Mississippi Headwaters Board is funded by the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is administered by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The council was established by the Legislature to provide annual funding recommendations to the Legislature from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The fund was created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and receives a third of the money raised by the tax increase.

"Outdoor Heritage Fund is the dedicated sales tax funding that was voted by referendum in 2008," McGillivray said.

The Trust for Public Land learned about the Erickson property from the county. Conservation of the land "will preserve the property's wildlife habitat and provide hunters, outdoorsmen and others with river access and other adjacent public land to hunt, fish and recreate," according to the proposal.

"We're a national land conservation organization, a nonprofit, and our mission is to conserve land for people to enjoy as parks and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come," McGillivray said of The Trust for Public Land.

The Mississippi Headwaters Board works to protect and preserve the first 400 miles of the Mississippi River in Minnesota and consists of a joint powers board of Clearwater, Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Aitkin, Crow Wing and Morrison counties.

The Erickson property is in a recreational area along the river about 6 miles northwest of Crosby and 1.5 miles northwest of County Highway 30, with more than a half-mile of shoreline.

"It's great habitat for both grouse and deer, and of course having all this shoreline on the Mississippi, which is a critical flyway for waterfowl, also provides great habitat for waterfowl," McGillivray said. "The land also connects a number of public lands. And in particular, it blocks up county forest land. ... It's surrounded on three sides by county land and also by the Mississippi on the other."

Land services manages 105,000 acres of forest land for timber production and recreational opportunities. The sale of timber at public auctions funds the county's management of these lands, while providing revenues to local communities.

"There's some very mature aspen that should be harvested in the near future," McGillivray said of the Erickson property. "We've also worked with staff to create a restoration management plan. Basically, the land will be managed like other county forest land."

Initial restoration plans for the property include the removal of a small outhouse and wire frame structure and removal of any deer stands, and posting of the allowed trail uses.

"According to county staff, the initial revenue from that timber sale should be approximately $60,000. Of course, if the county acquires this, it would come off the tax rolls. The taxes on this property are currently $2,708, and the county portion of that is $1,379.22," McGillivray said.

"This timber sale will offset that, and potential timber harvests in the future should more than make up for any loss in tax revenue on this."

Mississippi River Northwoods

No new trails of any kind will be constructed on the donated Erickson property along the Mississippi River without the written permission of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

"There is a (motorized) trail on this land already. Will that trail be allowed to stay without us having to go to court over it?" Board Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen asked.

McGillivray replied, "Yes, Madame Chair. ... However, on some other informal trails on the property, motorized use (including all-terrain vehicles) would not be allowed on those trails. Of course, they would be open for walking, hunting, hiking and those types of those activities."

Franzen was referring to the controversy surrounding a multi-use trail system within the Mississippi River Northwoods property, which is nestled between the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and the county landfill.

That property was selected by Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council in 2012 for habitat protection through the Outdoor Heritage Fund. More than $11 million was used to buy the parcel from the Potlatch Corp. and then the Legislature approved transferring ownership to the county.

The controversy around that project started in 2014, when the Cuyuna Iron Range Riders submitted a proposal for 11.5 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails within the Northwoods property.

Several Lessard-Sams council members had said the idea of a motorized trail system violates the spirit of what Minnesota voters intended their tax dollars be used to preserve when they approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008.

County officials maintained it was their intention to manage the Mississippi River Northwoods property as they do all other county property-including management of recreational motorized trails.

A resolution passed by the board in 2017 closed all trails not part of the 11.5-mile designated trail system to recreational motorized vehicles. The limited designation differs from the policy on most of the county's forestland, on which motorized use is allowed unless posted closed.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Steve Barrows made the motion to approve the acquisition of the Erickson property and Commissioner Doug Houge seconded the motion. The motion was passed despite the lone dissenting vote by Commissioner Paul Koering.

"I think we know best how to manage our lands, so can you assure me that if we go ahead with this that we're going to be able to manage that the way we manage all of other property here in Crow Wing County?" Koering asked before the vote.

Land Services Director Gary Griffin replied, "We do believe as far as forest management it'll be managed exactly like how we do the rest 105,000 acres of county land in the county. ... We think the benefit to the public outweighs some of the limitations on trail management."