Public gets access to 187,000 acres

  • Updated: July 8, 2010 - 9:43 AM

The state's deal with UPM-Blandin keeps the northern land from ever being subdivided or developed.

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A hardwood stand contains trees of various ages on UPM Blandin Paper land, part of the Upper Mississippi Forest Project, in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt,

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About 187,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest, wetlands and shoreline will be forever protected and remain open to public hunting, fishing and other uses under a $44 million deal to be finalized Thursday with UPM-Blandin Paper Co.

Called the largest land conservation project in the state, the Finnish company is being paid for conservation easements on the land, allowing the company to retain ownership and to continue to harvest wood from the land, but preventing it from being developed or subdivided. The easements also mean the company must allow public access, including access to snowmobile, ATV and hiking trails -- a key element.

The cost includes $34 million from funds raised by Clean Water, Land and Legacy dollars through a 2008 sales tax increase and $9.75 million in private money. Supporters say it will curb the fragmentation of northern Minnesota's forests, which has occurred since forest companies began selling off small parcels in recent years. Numerous conservation groups supported the purchase.

Mark Holsten, Department of Natural Resources commissioner, who has called the deal a "once in a lifetime opportunity,'' said Wednesday that he has no doubt those lands eventually would have been sold off and public access closed had the deal not been made.

"Is there value in having that large forest landscape remain managed and open to public? If the answer is yes, then it's a good deal.''

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