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Nearly 130 acres of pristine woodlands surrounding the cleanest lake in Hennepin County are for sale, and Three Rivers Park District wants to buy and preserve them.
The Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church is selling Camp Kingswood, run by the church primarily for youth since 1947. The camp property brackets about 70 percent of the total shoreline of Little Long Lake in Minnetrista.
The 65-acre lake is fed by pure, cold groundwater that supports trout as well as other fish. An old-growth forest of maples, basswood and ancient oaks thrives along a steep ridge that rises 80 feet above the west shore.
A nearby pond features an unusual floating tamarack bog, and the lake nurtures a broad array of native plants and rare sedges that are home for loons, kingfishers, and least bitterns.
"It's a spectacular piece of property," said Three Rivers natural resources director John Barten, who toured the camp earlier this month.
Church leaders decided four weeks ago to sell the property, prompting Three Rivers commissioners to vote to begin negotiations to purchase it. A church spokeswoman said it's too early to say what the price might be.
Barten said Three Rivers is interested in the property because of its high natural resource value, and because of its proximity to the park district's Gale Woods Farm, which is about a mile to the south.
Kingswood also lies along a possible north-south trail corridor that could link several parks and trails, he said.
Church officials said they're selling the land after 65 years because they cannot afford all five camps that they own in Minnesota.
"We only have enough campers for about half of our camps," said spokeswoman Victoria Rebeck. "It wasn't so much that Kingswood isn't a great place, but some of our other camps are better suited for what we're going to focus on."
Camp director Paul Harcey said Kingswood is used year-round by church members of all ages, but its main focus is on youth and week-long summer camps.
The young people perform various ministries, he said, and are based at the camp where they eat, sleep, worship and enjoy the beach and other recreation.
Hennepin County natural resources specialist David Thill said that Little Long Lake is the cleanest lake in the county, along with Christmas Lake, in terms of clarity and other water quality scores in annual tests.
Thill has helped the church improve the camp's natural resources during the past 15 years. He has worked with partner agencies on projects to remove invasive plants, stabilize a hillside that was eroding toward the lake, and restore 25 acres of former farmland to native prairie.
Thill said the camp is a remarkable collection of unique ecological systems.
An 'Up North' feel
"You've got everything from bogs to fens to old-growth trees to prairies," he said. Because Little Long is a glacial lake, Thill said it has an "Up North" feel.
"You can be in a canoe in the morning and see the mists coming off the water," he said. "The loons are here all the time."
Barton said that it's too early to say whether the land with its steep ridges and narrow shoreline would be suitable for a trail, but there's no question that the area's pristine quality could be preserved more easily under a single owner.
"The really intriguing thing is that the watershed of the lake is very small," Barton said, with almost no runoff from the parallel wooded ridges that protect it on both sides. "Because you have less runoff going into the lake, you have less pollutant loading."
The property is also within earshot of the adjacent Minnetonka Sportsmen's Club, with its full range of rifle, pistol and trap shooting.
Harcey said that others have inquired about Kingswood, but he declined to identify them because he is not involved in the selling process. Harcey said that any potential buyer faces development restrictions on most of the land.
Thill said that the nonprofit Minnesota Land Trust and Hennepin County bought a 44-acre conservation easement last year, and Metro Greenways and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are co-holders of a 66-acre conservation easement. The easements transfer automatically to the next owner, he said.
Thill said that the remaining 17 acres available for development are mainly at the top of the ridge where the camp's cabins, lodge and activity areas are located.
Minnetrista senior planner David Abel said that Kingswood is identified as a "greenway opportunity" in the city's parks, trails and open space plan. That doesn't preclude development, he said, but it would mean close scrutiny of any design if a development was proposed "to look for opportunities or areas that you want to remain open."
The camp and surrounding rural area is zoned agricultural, Abel said, and the minimum lot size is 10 acres.
Minnetrista Mayor Cheryl Fischer said the city has not been notified officially about the property going on the market, but she's glad that Three Rivers is interested.
"It's a very pristine, beautiful lake," she said. "We don't have much of that left."
Tom Meersman 612-673-7388