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Pristine Lester Lake unveiled over weekend

DNR Fisheries supervisor Doug Kingsley speaks at the Lester Lake SNA/AMA dedication postponed in 2011 by the state government shutdown. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Kabekona Lake Foundation president Luther Nervig represented one of the groups instrumental in the collaboration that resulted in the Lester Lake project being purchased for preservation. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

The poster child born of a preservation partnership was unveiled to the region Saturday as dozens of jubilant conservationists cheered Lester Lake.

"We don't get applause and recognition often," said Peter Buessler, DNR regional manager for eco and water resources, to hearty laughter.

The 440-acre preservation of undeveloped land, containing the 75-acre Lester Lake, "is a very important acquisition and project," said DNR regional manager Lori Dowling.

Under a bright red and white striped tent near the shores of Lester Lake in northeastern Hubbard County, speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of the unique land parcel acquired from developers in 2010.

Because of its rare species of flora and fauna, it will become a Scientific and Natural Area, the designation reserved for the most pristine pieces of land worth preserving. It is also designated as an Aquatic Management Area. The dual status allows the lake and lands to be the beneficiary of an ecological coup de gras.

DNR fisheries manager Doug Kingsley of Park Rapids, choked up when introducing his segment of the program.

He started by praising the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners, who gave the OK to take the property off the tax rolls.

"Not all county boards are as far-sighted as this one," Kingsley said.

And as he nears retirement, Kingsley, when people ask him what he accomplished in his long governmental career, "projects like this are at the top of the list."

The property, in private hands until 2009, is home to rare species of flowers, birds and wildlife.

In 2009 a partnership made up of various DNR divisions, the Trust for Public Lands and the Kabekona Lake Foundation began a cooperative effort to raise the $1.5 million purchase price. Lester Lake is part of the Kabekona watershed; the two are connected by Sucker Creek.

By May 2010, several divisions of the Department of Natural Resources had formulated a cooperative plan to manage the property and the lake, post-purchase.

Luther Nervig, president of the Kabekona Lake Foundation, beamed like a proud papa as he greeted every visitor.

He remembers the early meetings in a Walker café to cement the sale.

"It was a really good partnership, working together for a common purpose - preservation," he said.

The high biodiversity project received the state's first Legacy amendment grant, thanks to the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, Nervig pointed out.

"We got $350,000," he said.

Bob McGillivray of the Trust for Public Land, put in that successful grant proposal.

Saturday he and Kingsley overlooked the lake, flushed with their success.

One of the criteria for obtaining Legacy funding is a show of local support, McGillivray said.

The lake foundation mounted a strong showing to edge the acquisition forward, and many gathered Saturday were Kabekona Lake residents who'd grown up near Lester Lake and had explored it as kids.

Many hiked into the tented area off Hubbard County Road 37 with their lawn chairs, turning down shuttle service to the ceremony.

Lester Lake does not allow motorized boats. As if to show off for the company Saturday, its calm waters glistened as it was showcased for the dedication.

It is a catch-and-release lake, but hunting will be allowed on the grounds.

"We used to drop a canoe in Kabekona but we were scared to death we'd get shot by the owner" if they trespassed into Lester Lake, Luther recalled for guests, adding "he was very possessive."

SNAs were first set aside in 1969. The state now has 150 of them, said Katie Haws of DNR Fisheries Midwest glacial lakes coordinator.

AMAs came about in the early 1980s, Haws said,

"We now have 861 shoreline miles protected."

Dowling acknowledged that as more land becomes tax-exempt, the projects become more controversial.

In 2011, Hubbard County and Fern Township board voted in favor of the La Salle SRA, a more pristine addition to Itasca State Park.

An SRA is a recreation area. La Salle, in northwestern Hubbard County, is a hybrid of an SNA, an AMA and an SRA.

"This was a very important acquisition and project," Dowling said of Lester Lake. But as those purchases become more possible with Legacy funding, she said the DNR is committed to making them "precision acquisitions," not simply purchasing land parcels.

"It has some of the most significant natural features in Hubbard County," Buessler said.

"It's a great place out in the middle of nowhere," Nervig said with a huge smile.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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