Sugar Hills

While some Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners were in Ontario on the Canadian leg of the Seeing the Trees AND the Forest productivity tour, others gathered Thursday night at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis for the 15th annual Minnesota Environmental Initiative Award Ceremony. The Partnership won the Natural Resource Protection and Restoration award. Peggy Ladner of The Nature Conservancy accepted the award on behalf of the Partnership. A complete listing of nominees and winners is avaiable at MEI’s website.

Click here to listen to Blandin Foundation president and CEO Jim Hoolihan post-event podcast and learn more about the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership.

Minnesota Forest Legacy Partners at MEI Awards, 2008


Minnesota Forest Resources Council Executive Director Dave Zumeta told participants at a recent MFRC-landscape committee summit here in Grand Rapids that parcelization remains at the top of the list of forest policy challenges facing Minnesota.

VFVC blog readers surely are aware of the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, created to address this challenge. To date the Partnership has concluded two major easements, Sugar Hills and the Koochiching-Washington Forest Project.

Community celebrations of the new Kooch-Washington conservation easement in Grand Rapids on Feb 1-2 included a dinner to thank Forest Capital Partners, the landowner, and a 60 mile snowmobile ride through the industrial forestlands now in conservation easement under this agreement.

Forest Capital Partners recognitionKooch-Washington Legacy Project snowmobile ride

Meanwhile, across town from Dave and the MFRC meeting, community members braved the bitter cold and dark of an early January morning to learn about an innovative new family-scale opportunity to address the parcelization threat to forests in Itasca County. On behalf of her visionary Board of Directors, Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation (GRACF) Executive Director Wendy Roy described GRACF’s new Itasca County Area Forest Legacy Fund.

Inspired by the Minnesota Forest Legacy Partnership, this new fund is GRACF Forest Legacy Fund designed as a tool to help family woodlot owners keep their private forestlands intact and build their own forest legacies for the future. The fund also will be used to raise awareness about the importance of forest stewardship. The GRACF will use the services of the Minnesota Land Trust to craft, monitor, and hold the easements in perpetuity. For more information, contact the fund at: or 218/327-8855.

At last week’s community celebration of the newly signed working forest easement on Sugar Hills – 1,660 acres of unique northern hardwood forests – Senator Tom Saxhaug reminisced to the crowd about the handshake deal he made years ago as county commissioner with Jack Rajala that sealed the Rajala company’s commitment to the people of Itasca County to be good stewards of that special tract.

Sugar Hills Celebration

Lots of hometown folks including Elmer Cone, Mark Johnson, John Almendinger, Catherine McLynn, Bud Stone, and foundation trustees Marian Barcus, Jim Benson, and Mike Johnson — to name just a few with whom I had a chance to visit — and some big wigs from St. Paul and DC — like DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, Congressman Jim Oberstar, and USDA Undersecretary Mark Rey — came out to the site, meticulously maintained in the winter by the Northern Light Noridic Ski Club, and on this summer day beautifully decked out with a tent and banners by a host of volunteers under the able direction of Trust for Public Land’s Becca Nash.

In his remarks, Rajala Companies President John Rajala told the audience the story of how Becca and her colleagues at TPL, and other members of the Forest Legacy Partnership, had worked doggedly with him and his family to craft the working forest easement that will allow the Rajalas to make good on Jack’s handshake in perpetuity. Jim Oberstar reached for lyricism when he told the crowd that their success in protecting this forest was a beacon for a better future.

It was a beautiful celebration of a visionary and successful public-private partnership on a beautiful day in a beautiful woods, graced by good fellowship, good feelings, and, at the end, by the sweet sound of voices lifted together in song as Mary and Don LaPlant offered musical accompaniment to America the Beautiful.

Sugar Hills Celebration

TNC’s Itasca Field Representative Art Norton led tours afterwards. If you weren’t able to be with us, email Art if you’d like to arrange your own tour.

It was a great day for Itasca Co., for Minnesota, and for future Minnesotans. I know that for sure because TNC’s Tom Landwehr took a call while at the podium from our future generations – calling to register their thanks.