As aquatic invaders spread throughout Minnesota, Hubbard County has some lessons to offer.

The northern Minnesota county has, so far, escaped infestation by major aquatic invasive species (AIS), including zebra mussels, milfoil and starry stonewort.

Conservation advocates credit the county's foresight in mounting an education and prevention program more than a decade ago. That effort included not only local governments but also resorts and cabin owners.

Last week, about 70 area residents met in Park Rapids to discuss how they can keep their success going. The meeting was hosted by Riverside United Methodist Church, whose pastor, Chip Nielsen, views conservation as part of his church's stewardship mission.

Hubbard County's early efforts served as a model for others in the state, said Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates. He also noted the economic benefits of keeping lakes free of invasive species.

"In many townships and in Hubbard County in general, lakeshore property makes up the majority of the tax base," Forester said. Studies in other states have found, for instance, that milfoil infestation on a lake will reduce property values by about 13 percent, he said.

Efforts to fight AIS have benefited from $10 million in new funding established by the Legislature in 2014. The money, which comes from general state revenue, is apportioned to counties based on the number of boat ramps and parking spaces in the county. (Here's a list of how much each county receives.) That and other initiatives have helped increase the number of trained AIS inspectors in the state from 120 a few years ago to about 1,200 today, Forester said.

Hubbard County also hired a full-time AIS program coordinator, Bill DonCarlos, who started work last spring. DonCarlos said involvement by the county's coalition of lake associations also has helped.

"They have been so proactive," he said, adding that, despite aquatic infestation in all the surrounding counties, "we've been able to hold it off pretty well. Our community is very proud."

But it's a battle that never ends, said Nicole Kovar, an invasive species specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

"AIS doesn't consider county boundaries," she said.

John Reinan • 612-673-7402