Eagles and egrets fly by, deer graze and wild turkeys waddle around one of the newest preserved pieces of wetland, woods and prairie habitat in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment paid for most of the $1.2 million cost of the Columbus Lake Conservation Area, a 258-acre wild chunk of northeast Anoka County. The area, which opened last fall, is a key link in a 20-mile-long wildlife corridor to the Mississippi River and protects the headwaters area of Rice Creek.
But the $940,000 paid last year by proceeds from the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is small change compared with the $1 billion-plus generated in the first five years of Legacy’s dedicated state sales tax. That five-year total is unmatched by any other voter-approved conservation measure in the nation, say officials at the Trust for Public Land in Boston. The Trust, which has monitored such initiatives across the country since 1988, says the Legacy Amendment’s three conservation funds are expected to raise at least $5.5 billion before the 3/8 of 1 percent sales tax expires in 2034.
So far, Legacy has supported more than 1,500 projects aimed at preserving clean water and conserving land for trails, parks, and wildlife and fish habitat.
State officials say the Columbus Lake area, open to fishing, hunting and wildlife watching, is a good example of Legacy projects.
Anoka County owns and manages the area, which lies about 30 minutes north of Minneapolis-St. Paul and just south of the Lamprey Pass Wildlife Management Area near Forest Lake, where Rice Creek begins. The county paid $250,000 of its cost and built a small parking lot for users last fall on Lake Drive (County 23), about a mile west of Interstate 35.
The tract will be forever protected from development, said Jeff Perry, park planning and resources manager for Anoka County. He said the area harbors the rare water willow bush and has high quality plant communities, such as emergent marshes, a sedge meadow and oak forest stands. It is rich in wildlife, including deer, pheasants, beaver, great blue herons, bald eagles and water fowl, Perry said.
Legacy allows Anoka County to protect “high-quality resources for many generations to come,” Perry said. He noted the county also won about $2.8 million in Legacy funds to buy 550 acres for the Cedar Creek Conservation Area on the Rum River in 2009 and 2010.
The Legacy Amendment was passed in November 2008 with 56 percent support from voters. In February, a survey found that more than 70 percent of 600 voters contacted favored Legacy’s dedicated funding, according to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of environmental groups that paid for the poll by two national firms. The survey had a 4 percent margin of error.