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Chippewa National Forest adds 40 acres on Leech Lake

Map of the recently-acquired land on Leech Lake in north-central Minnesota that was added to Chippewa National Forest on Monday, March, 13, 2017. Map courtesy The Trust For Public Land

BEMIDJI, Minn. — A total of 40 acres of land off Leech Lake is officially part of the Chippewa National Forest.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land announced on Monday that a quarter-mile square on Stony Point now is officially owned by the United States Forest Service.

Wary of a developer's proposal to build homes on the patch of land, the trust purchased it for a little more than $1 million in 2009, according to Bob McGillivray, a senior project manager at the trust.

"Those (developer's) plans included the construction of a paved road across sensitive wetlands, which could disrupt the area's delicate ecosystem, destroy Native American artifacts, and degrade the water quality of Leech Lake, the third largest lake in Minnesota and a favorite spot for local anglers," according to a statement from trust staff.

The land is off Trader's Bay in Leech Lake and east of Onigum. It is several miles south of a Bemidji-area resort that shares the same name. The resort is unaffected by the forest service's acquisition.

The trust recently turned the land over to the forest service, who lacked the federal funding in 2009 to buy it itself but has since received it from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"Landowners and would-be developers aren't willing to wait six or seven years for LWCF funding to become available," McGillivray said in a statement. "To protect our beloved public spaces, we have to act quickly."

Scott Farley, a spokesperson for the forest service, said staff there typically try to acquire land that has historic or archaeological significance.

The acquisition has been lauded by anglers and civic officials alike.

Anglers for Habitat, a nonprofit group of fishing enthusiasts, described Stony Point as one of the best fishing spots on the lake. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the new land will boost tourism and businesses, and fellow Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken described the national forest as a "treasure."

The Chippewa National Forest was the first to be established east of the Mississippi River and contains more lakes and wetlands than any other. It has 21 campgrounds, 100 less-developed campsites, and hundreds upon hundreds of miles worth of trails for hiking, snowmobiling, and more, according to its website. It also boasts 1,300 lakes, 925 miles of streams, 400,000 acres of wetlands, and thousands of archaeological and historic sites. It's also one of the largest breeding areas for bald eagles in the contiguous United States.

Staff there manage about 660,000 acres of the 1.6 million acre forest.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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