Washington County's help from Land and Water Legacy money buys a key link between two nature areas. One official calls the purchase "a huge benefit to residents."
In Oakdale, already a city of green space, an upcoming public purchase of private property will add another critical piece to a plan to keep deer strolling through the neighborhoods.
Securing 5.4 acres of land at the corner of Hwy. 5 and Century Avenue -- where Washington and Ramsey counties meet -- completes a chain of woods and meadows that stretches northeast from the 42-acre Priory Natural Area to the 220-acre Oakdale Nature Preserve.
"It's always been one of our priorities and one we see as a huge benefit to residents," said Logan Martin, the city's community development specialist. "Given that we're a built-out city, it's very important to preserve the open space we do have."
The acquisition is the seventh major transaction under the umbrella of Washington County's Land and Water Legacy program, a voter-approved initiative to protect natural areas against development. While the purchase of the land from Peter Taubenberger is principally Oakdale's project, the Washington County Board voted 5-0 last week to contribute $50,000 toward the cost.
"It expands the rural atmosphere that Washington County is trying to promote," said Dennis Hegberg, board chairman.
Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek, who represents Oakdale on the board, said he is happy to see a Land and Water acquisition in an older, more developed city.
Once an appraisal of the land is complete, Oakdale will pay the difference. The county will receive a conservation easement over the property, which protects the land from development.
Taubenberger never lived on the property and it has no structures, Martin said. The two parcels that comprise the 5.4 acres sit adjacent to 36 acres of private land that also is permanently protected through a conservation easement held by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. All that land will be open to the public, serving as the northern trail access into the Priory Natural Area.
Nature center is close by
Not far from the Priory land, across Century Avenue to the south, is the Maplewood Nature Center.
The greenbelt that runs northeast to Oakdale Nature Preserve has "passive trails" rather than paved ones to preserve the area's natural appeal, Martin said. The greenbelt is home to deer and other wildlife, creating a refuge inside Oakdale, but the city's principal mission is to preserve undeveloped land to benefit residents, he said.
The city should be completing the deal within two weeks once the land appraisal is available.
Washington County voters approved Land and Water Legacy in 2006. The referendum allows the county to spent up to $20 million to protect drinking water resources, purchase parkland, preserve wetlands and woodlands, and protect land along water bodies from development.
The county board had come under some criticism a few years ago that it wasn't acting on voters wishes, but commissioners said then that finding valuable land and negotiating "willing seller" purchases took time. The board has approved a flurry of agreements in recent years.
"The purpose of each project has been consistent with the purpose of the referendum," said Jane Harper, the county's senior planner who oversees Land and Water Legacy. "There has been quite a bit of activity the past year."
The county has spent about $3.8 million of a $5 million bond issue commissioners approved to make initial purchases. Because most of the desired properties on the county's original shopping list have been bought or rejected, Harper said, commissioners will decide in a workshop on July 10 how they want to proceed with future acquisitions.
Kevin Giles 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles