The University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen has sprouted a new addition.
The 55-year-old public garden and research center purchased 78 acres in a $4.3 million land deal, officials announced Tuesday. The land includes native woods, wetlands, tillable land and 1,300 feet of shoreline along Tamarack Lake.
"It's just a spectacular piece of land," said Peter Moe, the arboretum's director of operations and research. "It's great to preserve it as open space."
Acquiring the Tamarack Lake property enables the arboretum to protect the lake's water quality, he said, as well as the habitat for wood ducks, owls, hawks and other wildlife that live in the wetlands or the large oaks and sugar maples. The arboretum also will restore some of the land to prairie, Moe said, and offer free public access to the lake for low-impact recreation such as fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
The land is just north of Hwy. 5 and west of the arboretum's main entrance, and just east of its popular apple house and horticultural research offices.
Moe said the addition also will serve as a "buffer zone" to help preserve the arboretum's natural features.
The arboretum includes 1,137 acres, but it has experienced increasing residential development pressure, especially along its eastern and western borders. The potential was also for housing to develop to the north, he said.
"With this purchase, Tamarack Lake is completely surrounded by either University of Minnesota or city of Victoria parkland — all public ownership," he said.
Moe said the university bought the land from two sisters who grew up there on a family farm. Funding came from three sources: $2 million from the state's Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which comes from lottery proceeds; $1 million from the state's outdoor legacy fund and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, and $1.3 million from the university, which will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Foundation.
Because the state funds are allocated for conservation and environmental improvements, the land will be managed as such, with no admission charges, Moe said. The main arboretum charges $12 for adults and those 13 and older.
Road and parking improvements will be needed before access can be provided to the Tamarack Lake property, he said, and a land use and restoration plan should be approved sometime in 2014.
Ten acres will be dedicated to horticulture and environmental research, Moe said, with research priorities to be determined. The university has developed cold-hardy strains of apples, grapes and other plants on adjacent land for several decades.
A harvest of changes
The deal is one of several recent changes at the arboretum, located about 22 miles southwest of Minneapolis. It opened a solar-powered "circulator" tram last summer along Three Mile Drive that winds through the grounds. And in August, officials dedicated a new 3-acre sculpture garden with 23 world-class artworks.
Arboretum public relations specialist Barb DeGroot said the number of people visiting the arboretum dipped from 328,000 to 290,000 during the past two years, measured between July 1 and June 30. "We believe the slight downturn in the most recent fiscal year was due to one of the longest winters on record and a very short spring," she said.
Attendance figures are up 8 percent for this September and October compared with a year ago, she said, and membership sales have held fairly steady during the past two years about 22,600.
The arboretum is raising money and planning several possible projects on its land during the next few years, Moe said, including a treetop canopy walk, a Chinese garden, a woodland performance space and a bee education center.