Easy access to nature is one of the big draws of living in Andover. But even in the outer-ring suburbs, residents worry that this pleasure can be fleeting as nature cedes ground to neighborhoods.

Now, as a nearly decadelong program comes to an end, Andoverites are assured that more than 170 acres of woodlands and meadows will remain natural open space in perpetuity.

The city is slated to close on its last property as part of that open space acquisition program. Voters approved a $2 million city request in 2006 to buy parcels that feature Minnesota’s woodlands, wetlands and meadows.

Andover is spending its final $80,000 on 40 acres to be named Dalske Woodlands after the family that has owned the land for decades. The City Council authorized the purchase last week.

Andover is one of more than 20 Twin Cities suburbs that have passed measures to preserve open spaces since the late 1980s, according to the Trust for Public Land.

When the city closes on the final property, Andover will have extensive four open spaces, each between 40 and 46 acres. The city will have spent slightly more than $2 million, using interest accrued to help cover the costs.

Birds, hikers, wildflowers

At one of the sites — the 46-acre North Woods Preserve — a gravel parking lot connects to a mowed trail that winds through a canopy of trees and then through a meadow. Acorns crunch underfoot. Birds chirp overhead, swooping away from the trail as hikers pass. Sprigs of wildflowers in yellow, purple and white blossom along the trail.

It’s preserving some of the pastoral beauty of the region that planners one day foresee being built out.

“Residents will be able to enjoy that forever,” said Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg.

Andover’s seven-member Open Space Advisory Commission shepherded the acquisition process, touring and evaluating properties.

Properties were selected for a list of criteria including natural beauty and biological diversity. They also had to have willing sellers and be buildable. The city declined to buy pure wetlands and parcels deemed undevelopable because essentially they’re already protected.

The public already has access to both North Woods and Martin’s Meadows.

Hikers, bird-watchers and nature lovers can follow mowed trails but are asked to tread lightly. Wildlife, trees and plants are protected by city ordinance. No bikes allowed.

“This whole idea was preservation but allowing public access to the space is very important,” Carlberg said. “It’s the residents’ money we were spending. They should have the ability to enjoy it.”

The open space is to remain natural so as to preserve habitat and improve water quality. Visitors shouldn’t expect playgrounds, paved trails and other amenities found in city parks. Andover’s 67 parks offer those opportunities.

“The process of open space has been long. We’ve been at it since 2006, almost a decade. The purchase we made for the city will be very good in the long run,” said commission Chairwoman Gretchen Sabel.

Now the committee will continue its work on management plans with an eye toward restoring even more native plant life.

Sabel said she enjoys snowshoeing at Martin’s Meadows in the winter and strolling through North Woods in the summer. She has spotted, turkey, deer, coyote and a variety of songbirds.

“I love being out in nature,” Sabel said.