The Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District recently presented its 2020 Crow Wing County Conservationist of the Year award to the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church staff, Star Lake Wilderness Camp staff and the Rev. Bob Hoeft of Crosby.

Star Lake Wilderness Camp is a part of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church established in the 1960s.

“About five years ago, I had a chance to walk and visit the camp with Bob Hoeft. I knew immediately this place was something special and needed to be protected,” Melissa Barrick, SWCD district manager, said in a news release.

The camp contains more than 441 acres of old-growth forest and wetlands surrounding Little Star Lake and borders Duck, Henry and Star lakes.

“Star Lake Wilderness Camp is one of Crow Wing County’s hidden gems. This camp compared to other camps in the area has a true wilderness feel with very primitive camping, picnicking and buildings,” Barrick said.

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Due to the proximity to Cross and Pelican lakes, the camp land had great potential for future lake homes, condominiums or other developments.

The Minnesota Conference’s Board of Trustees elected in 2016, however, to pursue a conservation easement; the church would continue to own the property for the camp, receive revenue to maintain the property, and the land would be protected from future development.

“The setting it’s in, the exposure to the outdoors - including ticks and poison ivy - offers an experience that just doesn’t exist in many places anymore, including here in Crow Wing County,” said Hoeft, chairperson for the trustees’ Star Lake Task Force.

In 2020, the camp protected 383 acres of woods, deep- and cold-water fish habitat, wetlands and more than 4.6 miles of shoreline through a permanent conservation easement. The easement process was completed by the Minnesota Land Trust and Northern Water Land Trust.

“These are sacred spaces where we share our community and get kids outside to experience nature and learn our role in stewarding nature,” said Keith Shew, director of camp and retreat ministries for Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church.

The permanent conservation easement was made possible by the members of the Minnesota Land Trust, with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.