Sharing nature: Groups seek to preserve area wetlands

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Boasted as the best pheasant-hunting grounds around, the Grass Lake area also offers an opportunity to observe the wildlife that thrives there, said sportsmen Pat Neilon and Jack Adams.

Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Boasted as the best pheasant-hunting grounds around, the Grass Lake area also offers an opportunity to observe the wildlife that thrives there, said sportsmen Pat Neilon and Jack Adams.

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It is also a place they want to share with the public.

The Southern Gateway Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters and the South Central Pheasants Forever Organization have joined efforts to acquire land, located west of Gordonsville on Stateline Highway 1, for hunting and wildlife observation. Grass Lake’s thick grasses and some wooded areas are home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, pheasants and turkey.

Thanks to a recent grant from Miller Brewing Company and many other donations, Neilon, Adams and the groups they represent continue to acquire portions of the basin.

&uot;We’ve got to think about the long range plans even though we’ve done well in the short time we’ve been working,&uot; said Adams.

In just under three years, they’ve purchased roughly 790 acres, Neilon said.

&uot;It would be great if we could acquire the whole basin, but we’re happy we’ve come this far,&uot; Neilon said. &uot;We were happy with the first 380 acres we purchased, and everything just started falling into place after that.&uot;

Several years ago, they learned an absentee landowner whose property had been a part of the Wetlands Restoration Program and the Conservation Reserve Program was looking to sell his land.

Neilon, who grew up near the area, knew of the rich hunting and wildlife observation opportunities in the area. The two sportsmen groups joined forces to purchase the land, and have been trying to get some of the adjacent land since the first purchase.

&uot;WRP has been a God-send,&uot; said Neilon. &uot;If it wasn’t for WRP, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this.&uot;

The group has been able to purchase the land at a fairly low price, especially compared to other areas of the state.

They plan to purchase an additional 30 acres this year and up to 300 next year. The grant from Miller – part of their Friends of the Field program – of $4,000 will help them reach some of those goals, they said.

The Hide for Habitat program also helps the MDHA to raise funds. Albert Lea and Freeborn County have one of the highest deer-hides recycling rates in the state. While the state takes 25 percent of the sales to reinvest in wildlife habitats around the state in areas similar to Grass Lake, the remaining 75 percent is left to for organizations to use as they see fit. In this case, they use some of the funds to purchase land in Grass Lake.

Other regional Pheasants Forever chapters have made donations, as have private parties.

Plus the Worth County Conservation Board has been purchasing land on the Iowa side of the border with much the same goals.

While much of the land they have purchased are adjacent parcels, there are some that are separate. And since the signs have not been posted, the groups fear that many of the residents don’t know which pieces of land are for public use, and what is private property.

&uot;The DNR has to do that,&uot; Adams said about posting signs. &uot;They’re a little backed up right now, so we’re not sure when they get them up.&uot;

Because the land will eventually be turned over to the Department of Natural Resources for management, they must also post the areas that are open to the public.

Just because the land isn’t posted doesn’t mean the public isn’t welcome, Adams and Neilon said.

&uot;This is open for everyone to enjoy,&uot; said Neilon.

However, he recommends if people don’t know what land is public and what is private, they should ask a nearby landowner. Some private land is marked with no trespassing signs, but other portions are not.

&uot;Some of them (the landowners) won’t care if they’re not hunting the land themselves, and as long as you don’t damage their land or their crops. But folks need to ask first. The landowners will appreciate it,&uot; Neilon said.

Adams added that residents can ask members of either Pheasants Forever or MDHA, as they do have a map people can consult.

&uot;But things look a whole lot different out here than on a map. So their best bet is still to talk to the landowners,&uot; Adams said.

They are looking forward to getting the land posted so that it can be enjoyed by many others in the years to come.

&uot;This land isn’t just for us to hunt. We want to preserve it for our children and their children, for the hunters and the bird watchers,&uot; Adams said.