It’s a choice piece of Andover real estate with wooded, scenic bluffs along the Rum River that the deer, hikers and cross-country skiers will never lose to development.
The 38-acre parcel, called Martin’s Meadows, was the first site bought under Andover’s land preservation program. Since 2009, the city has acquired 88 acres for about $1.53 million that will stay forever green. Last week Andover bought its third parcel — 25.7 acres for $284,600 — near Hanson Boulevard and 161st Avenue.
“I think it’s gone really well,” Mayor Mike Gamache said of the seven-year-old program. In 2005, he heard that other cities had implemented preservation programs. After he and the city engineer learned more at a seminar led by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the City Council agreed to schedule a referendum.
In November 2006, about 54 percent of city voters approved the sale of $2 million in bonds to provide funds to purchase undeveloped land. The open space fund has a remaining balance of more than $483,000, noted Community Development Director David Carlberg, who oversees the program.
“The whole idea is to keep it natural and preserve it,” he said.
Andover, population 31,200, is one of 14 suburbs in the Twin Cities that have passed bond measures to preserve open spaces since the late 1980s, according to records compiled by the Trust for Public Land.
They range from Oakdale to Minnetonka and Chanhassen to Blaine and Andover. Woodbury, Plymouth and Eden Prairie each passed land measures twice. In all, voters have approved $111.7 million in bond sales for local land preservation.
Such votes “speak to the strong values Minnesotans have to protect key natural lands, keep lakes and rivers clean and keep parks and trails close to home,” said Susan Schmidt, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Trust. She said the natural areas also help attract development, as businesses and homebuilders like to locate near park and natural areas.
Dakota and Washington counties also have approved land ballot questions since 2002, and voters passed statewide measures three times. The last state vote was in 2008 for the Legacy Amendment, which authorized a state sales tax for land and water conservation, cultural and other purposes. That also was the most recent year any city or county approved bond sales to preserve land, Schmidt said.
A leader in the area
Minnesota is a leader among states that have passed ballot measures to buy land for parks and natural areas, said Andrew du Moulin, a director in a Trust research center in Boston.
Nationwide, voters have passed 76 percent of the referendum measures, which raised about $60 billion for land preservation since 1988, when the Trust began tracking things. During the same period, Minnesotans OK’d 82 percent of such measures at local and state levels, which raised almost $6 billion.
After gaining voter approval in 2006, Andover appointed seven residents to a newly created Open Space Commission. Commission leader Gretchen Sabel said the city had a biological survey of its open land done and then ranked sites by types of habitat, plant and animal species and whether sites are part of wildlife corridors. The city sent notices to large land owners, many of whom expressed interest in selling property. The commission used its ranking system to decide which sites to buy.
Sabel said land along the Rum River is a high priority, as is the area that includes the two other sites the city has bought. Those sites, just east of Hanson and north of 161st Avenue, offer oak savannas, overlooks by wetlands and stands of spruce, pines and apple trees.
Andover’s open space fund can only be used to buy land, Carlberg noted. The city makes site improvements or seeks grants to do so. In December, the city won a Legacy Amendment grant for $117,000 to remove buckthorn, stabilize overlook slopes, and make other improvements at Martin’s Meadows.
Pete Makousky, a bird-watcher from Anoka, started visiting the meadows in 2011. He has spotted big birds, like sandhill cranes, eagles, turkeys and pileated woodpeckers, as well as other unusual species, including the golden-crowned kinglet, black-billed cuckoo and belted kingfishers.
“They’ve made huge improvements on it [Martin’s Meadows],” he said. “I really like the way it is now with the natural trails.”