Conservationist Gives Land and Water to Area Citizens (MN)

Saint Paul, MN, 10/31/2008: After over forty years planting trees and maintaining grasslands on his stretch of the Zumbro River, today Donald Nelson converted “his” land into “our” land.

“It’s one of those special places, with its clear waters and abundant wildlife, and I can’t bear to think of losing it to development,” said Nelson. “It was my hope that all Minnesotans would be able to enjoy this natural area just as I have. Now, that is a reality.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), announced today that Nelson’s scenic property along the South Fork of the Zumbro River will be protected forever. Rich with hardwood forests, river shoreline and rolling grasslands, the 500-acre tract sits just 12 miles southwest of Rochester. Heelsplitter and Ellipse mussels, Ozark Minnow, and Northern Brook Lamprey are among the animals that thrive in the Zumbro River here and are on the state’s list of Species in Greatest Conservation Need, created to help the state target the most important areas for plant and wildlife protection.

TPL, the Minnesota Land Trust, and the DNR partnered with Nelson to find the right conservation tools to protect the land and its clean water. “Landowners have many conservation options, some quite complex. Mr. Nelson and the DNR asked us for help figuring out the best way to protect this land for future generations that made sense for everyone,” said Emily Miller of TPL. “We were able to match Mr. Nelson’s desire to leave a natural legacy with the public’s conservation needs, and succeeded in protecting this outstanding natural river land.”

As the new Rock Dell Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the land and riverfront will be open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, and berry picking. DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Don Nelson (no relation to the landowner Donald Nelson) said that Rock Dell WMA will join other wildlife areas in Olmsted County in providing public access to the outdoors in a fast-growing part of the state. “We are very grateful that TPL partnered with us to make this resource available to the public. It’s going to be a great place for hunting deer, turkey and pheasants, fishing, picking berries or mushrooms, and just enjoying nature.”

Area nature lovers and threatened species aren’t the only beneficiaries in this story. Most of the proceeds from the sale of the land will benefit an endowment at St. Olaf College established by Nelson to enhance the College’s environmental education program. Nelson is giving to future generations with this endowment, as well as with permanent protection of the land.

The need for such land conservation initiatives is becoming more urgent as Minnesota’s population continues to outgrow its current open spaces. In twenty-five years, 1.2 million more people will live in Minnesota, and over 1 million acres of Minnesota land will be developed. Rochester is a particularly fast growing area.

The protection of natural area and riverfront was made possible by the donation of a significant portion of the land to the DNR. Other funding was provided by the Reinvest in Minnesota Program that is supported in part by lottery ticket and critical habitat license plate sales.