Trust for Public Land, Sherburne County Work with Tribal Historic Preservation Offices from Three MN Tribes to Protect 430-Acres on Big Elk Lake

Trust for Public Land and Sherburne County announced today the protection of a 430-acre plot of land along the shoreline of Big Elk Lake that will become the county’s newest park.

“Protecting this property not only addresses the park gap in Sherburne County, providing access to Big Elk Lake and surrounding woodlands and wetlands, but it also establishes a framework for respectful stewardship of the land as a place of cultural significance where Dakota and Ojibwe stories can be told and remembered,” said Bob McGillivray, land protection director for Trust for Public Land. “Trust for Public Land is honored to work with the county and tribal groups to ensure the land promotes social equity by giving voice to Native American communities who have long been ignored in protecting their sacred cultural resources and offers a place for education for future generations.”

Currently a farmstead, the land holds cultural significance for both the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples. Through protection of Big Elk Lake Park, Sherburne County is preserving these significant Indigenous sites, increasing access to the outdoors (or nature), and protecting natural resources for more people to enjoy Minnesota’s beauty.

Working with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers from the Upper Sioux Community, the Lower Sioux Indian Community and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will offer interpretation on the site’s historical and cultural significance to Minnesota’s Indigenous peoples, the county will restore access to these sacred lands.

“I’m glad to see the respectful nature that Sherburne County and the Trust for Public Land has put forth in recognizing the sacredness and importance of this area to Native Americans,” said Kelly Applegate, Commissioner of Natural Resources, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “Sherburne County is to be commended for its outreach to the tribal nations of the area and the cooperative work that brought the project forward. When I visited the site on a sunny day last fall, there was a powerful yet peaceful energy in the air, with rolling landscapes of giant maple trees, open prairies of native plants filled with bees and butterflies, and flocks of waterfowl resting in the lake. It’s clear why this place was meaningful and sacred to our ancestors, and us as a people now. I’m glad this sacred area will be protected, honored, and respected for our future generations.”

“Indigenous People have been fighting for generations to protect our sacred sites and it usually requires compliance to State or Federal Laws that even allows us a chance to voice our concerns,” said Samantha Odegard, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Upper Sioux Community. “Sherburne County has chosen to be inclusive, to embrace an opportunity to learn from Indigenous people about the deep significance of this site and how to be respectful stewards of a place with a history and importance greater than they knew.”

“Sherburne County is setting a precedent in how they choose to engage with Tribal Nations,” said Cheyanne St. John, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Cansayapi Cultural Department for the Lower Sioux Indian Community. “Local and municipal projects are often exempt from the nexus which triggers tribal involvement, it’s great to see Sherburne County being purposeful in including Tribal Nations, descendant tribes and local community. Honoring cultural perspective and cultural practice for the entirety of the project.”

The property will double the amount of parkland managed by Sherburne County.

“This land acquisition is very significant for Sherburne County,” shared Sherburne County Commissioner and 2022 Board Chair Barbara Burandt. “Our County Board has embraced this project as an opportunity to create a public outdoor recreation space shaped by Indigenous cultural perspectives.”

This parkland acquisition, planning, and improvement project is being widely held as a positive model on how a collaborative process involving all partners should unfold.

Noted County Parks Coordinator Gina Hugo, “Throughout this project’s history, the county has sought, respected, and honored the recommendations provided through the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and will continue to elevate and foster cross cultural sensitivity.”

Much of the land has significant biodiversity, and some former agricultural fields will be restored to native prairie. Also in need of care are several historically significant structures, identified as potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including two vacation cottages formerly used by author Sinclair Lewis.

The county undertook a master planning process in anticipation of phased development of this natural public and cultural resource area. The purchase was funded through two significant grants from the MN DNR Natural and Scenic Areas and the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail Commission, as well as County reserve funds collected from past landfill operations and dedicated to the restoration and preservation natural and native lands.

For more information about the project, contact Gina Hugo, Sherburne County Parks Coordinator,

About Trust for Public Land

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit