The Rum River glides silently along the entire western edge of the new Cedar Creek Conservation Area. That's all that's silent, though.
Chickadees and phoebes warble from nearby branches. A pileated woodpecker emits its signature cackle. Rotten branches litter a gap that's not quite a path, and they crack loudly underfoot.
The 590-acre wedge of land carved out by the confluence of Cedar Creek and the Rum River is now open to hikers, anglers and appreciators of nature, Anoka County Parks' newest open space.
The only signs of civilization are a low hum from Anoka County Road 7 and the scattered detritus of a farm.
"This is a really special piece of property," said Parks Operations Manager Jeff Perry during a muddy stroll from the remains of an old farmstead down to the river's edge. "I don't know of any other in the metro like this."
The parcel has woodlands, high-quality wetlands and spreading prairies. Its rolling hills are uncommon in the Anoka County flatlands. About a third of the site never has seen a plow. The rest will be restored to its pre-settlement ecology, said John VonDeLinde, the county's parks director.
It is home to a multitude of waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, fish, mammals and a few rare species of turtle and freshwater mussels.
Straddling the border of Oak Grove and Andover, the property was purchased from a developer in two phases between 2009 and late 2010, using $3.8 million from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council collected through the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources also contributed $400,000. About 40 acres of the parcel is owned by the Anoka County Highway Department. It will be ceded to the Parks Department in bits as road construction elsewhere in the county impinges on existing parkland.
Though the parcel is operated by Anoka County Parks, no one calls it a park. It's not. It won't be developed or programmed. Parks employees continue to remove most traces of the families that once farmed and lived on the land; they will plant desirable native grasses, shrubs and trees, and remove invasive exotics, but that's about it, VonDeLinde said.
Across the river stretches the 434-acre Rum River Central Park, and a large portion of open space owned by the city of Andover is just downstream.
The property once was home to the Misslin family on the west side, and the Zook family to the east. The Misslins ran a dairy farm on the property from 1941 until Isabel Misslin's retirement in 1995. Former Anoka County Commissioner Paul Berg was friendly with the Misslin family and frequently hunted and trapped with them during his teens.
"I'd walk the river from St. Francis to Anoka, hunting and trapping," Berg said. "There's so much character to that piece of land, and a lot of it still is in a pre-settlement state. For me as a kid, it was the only area you could really explore and feel like you're the first one to be walking on it. Of course that wasn't true, but it hadn't been changed like so much of the land."
County workers had a big cleanup job on the Misslin farmstead. Luckily, however, there was no ground or water contamination to deal with. The old farmhouse, barn, sawmill and a few other outbuildings still stand, and a few other remnants of a previous life remain: old medicine bottles, canning jars, a stained sheet of piano music.
A trip through the parcel reveals vintage trucks and tractors, abandoned on the hillsides. Those will be auctioned off, VonDeLinde said. Most of the buildings will be removed, though the county will leave the sawmill, a corncrib and a few other structures that are sound enough to serve as wayside shelters.
Because its funding comes from the Outdoor Heritage fund of the Legacy monies, the area will be restricted to use by only hunters from the start of the small-game season in September until the end of the bow-hunting season in December. That decision made sense financially, since it gave the agency access to a large pot of money that made it possible to buy the land immediately, said VonDeLinde.
There was an interest in providing more urban hunting opportunities, he said, and "It also seemed consistent with the way the land had been used."
It was an investment for the future.
"I don't think people will fully appreciate the value of that acquisition for several generations down the line," he said.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409