Bob McGillivray, TPL land protection director, met with county commissioners during their Tuesday, July 13 work session.
In a letter to the board, McGillivray explained that TPL is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that “conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come.”
County Land Commissioner Mark “Chip” Lohmeier noted that the 273 acres has unique “recreational value” to the county.
Lohmeier, board chair David De La Hunt, county commissioner Tom Krueger and Heartland Lakes Development Commission Executive Director Mary Thompson viewed the property earlier this spring with a realtor and McGillivray.
“There are a number of buildings out there that are in various stages of disrepair and, most if not all, would need to be demolished,” Lohmeier said, adding that one rough estimate to tear down four buildings is $125,000 to $150,000.
Property owners to the north of Val Chatel have offered to sell 80 acres to Hubbard County, which includes the northern shoreline of a deep lake, he said. To the east and south is Laden Lakes property, currently owned by The Conservation Fund (TCF), which is in the process of divesting it to the state of Minnesota. TCF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to managing the land as working forests.
In its more than 50-year existence, McGillivray said TPL has conserved over 3.5 million acres. In Minnesota, they have protected over 100,00 acres since 1986. Within Hubbard County, TPF worked on the La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, the Lester Lake Scientific Natural Area and Bottle Lake Aquatic Management Area.
TPL acquires land, then conveys it to a unit of government for “permanent stewardship and public enjoyment.”
“This land is attractive to us because we think it has great recreational benefits,” said McGillivray. “I understand the county is interested in having a campground there and possibly some mountain bike trails. There are some great hills that would provide some great mountain biking opportunities. Of course, there’s the North Country Trail and the Heartland State Trail not far away.”
McGillivray has negotiated an option agreement with the current owner of Val Chatel until Feb. 2022.
The next steps would be an inspection, environmental assessments and appraisal of the site. The current list price is $1.6 million.
A private donor is interested in protecting property in northern Minnesota and funding the purchase. It would then be donated to Hubbard County.
McGillivray said the donor does have conditions, such as keeping the area outside of the campground largely natural, non-motorized trails and lake use, a reasonable number of campsites and a deed restriction to prevent further development or logging.
He pointed out there may be grants available to help the county purchase the land to the north and develop a campground, but they also require county matching funds.
County commissioners asked if the donor would be open to allowing electronic mountain bikes and RV camping, reintroducing a ski hill, building road access to remote campsites and creating a picnic area, playground and potential campsite for ATV users connecting to an existing ATV trail off the property.
McGillivray said those can all be part of a discussion with the private donor.
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell said the county’s no-net-loss policy regarding land exchanges will have to be addressed and the county parks board will need to write a site plan for designated use.
McGillivray said he had a list of consultants who could help create the plan.
“Thank you for entertaining a potentially wonderful project,” he concluded.