Five islands that fell off Washington County's tax rolls decades ago will become part of National Park Service holdings along the St. Croix River.

"It's benefiting the public, it's benefiting the park," said Dewayne Prince of the NPS regional office in Omaha. "We are good managers for this type of land."

Three of the islands are in May Township, just south of Marine on St. Croix. The other two are close together on the eastern edge of Scandia, farther north. Altogether the parcels total 97 acres.

The river islands have public appeal because under Park Service supervision they're guaranteed to remain undeveloped -- but at no cost to the county, said Prince, chief of land resources.

Kevin Corbid, the county's director of property records, said apparently none of the wooded islands ever had buildings. Portions of the islands are submerged when water is high, he said.

The county took possession of the first tax-forfeited island in 1928. The others came in 1945 and 1951.

Corbid said the county owns about 150 tax-forfeited parcels of land overall. Most of them, he said, are "slivers" left over from housing developments.

County commissioners haven't voted yet on whether to donate the land to the NPS, but Corbid will recommend in May or June that they do so. They gave Corbid permission a few weeks ago to pursue the matter in the Legislature, a step required to transfer land that has water frontage.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes three of the parcels, said the county had no purpose for the land and it's better off in NPS hands.

"It was the right decision to make," he said. "It makes good sense."

Dan Betts, a Park Service land specialist, said the NPS will examine the islands for environmental problems such as garbage dumping, oil spills and hazardous substances. That's a standard approach whenever land is donated, he said.

The NPS office in St. Croix Falls, Wis., will manage the land. The islands fall within the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, where the NPS manages 227 miles along the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers.

"It makes perfect sense that lands managed by other government entities that are within the authorized boundary of the National Scenic Riverway should be owned and managed by the National Park Service," said Superintendent Chris Stein.

Corbid said countless numbers of people have set foot on the islands as they navigate the St. Croix.

"I'm told it's not uncommon to pull their boats or canoes off to rest," he said.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432