Wayzata Big Woods Protection Completed (MN)

Wayzata, MN, 3/12/04 – The Trust for Public Land and the Friends of the Wayzata Big Woods announced today the successful completion of a community-led effort to conserve the 22-acre Cenacle site at the entrance to the City of Wayzata. After years of community dedication and a multi-faceted fundraising effort, the City of Wayzata now owns the forested property containing a rare remnant of the Big Woods, an ecosystem that once dominated the central Minnesota landscape. A conservation easement on the property, held by the Minnesota Land Trust, will protect the woods in perpetuity. The protection of the land was funded in part by a voter-approved public referendum and a private fundraising campaign.

“This is a great success on so many levels,” said Susan Schmidt, Director of the Trust for Public Land’s Minnesota Office. “The citizens of Wayzata should be proud of their accomplishment. It is an example of the power of community dedication. Because of the work of local residents, the trees will be here to greet the next generation and provide a quiet natural area for people to connect with the region’s natural history.”

The Trust for Public Land acquired the property from private landowners and conveyed ownership of the wooded portion to the City of Wayzata. TPL conveyed another 7 acres containing building and lawn to The Retreat. The private nonprofit organization intends to run a retreat center for people in recovery out of the existing buildings. Both the city and the Retreat agreed to development restrictions on the entire 22-acres through perpetual conservation easements held by the Minnesota Land Trust.

“We are delighted to be a part of ensuring the permanent protection of this wonderful piece of Minnesota’s natural history,” said Jane Prohaska, Executive Director of the Minnesota Land Trust.

Funding for the conservation effort was provided jointly by a $3 million public bond referendum passed by Wayzata citizens in November 2003; from the Retreat’s own financing; and from generous contributions from residents in and around Wayzata. Wayzata resident and Minnesota Advisory Board member Wendy Dayton and Richard Howell, a Wayzata businessman and leader in the Big Woods group, headed the fundraising efforts. Wendy and Doug Dayton and Bill and Nadine McGuire gave the lead gifts for the fundraising effort.

“The Big Woods is an important piece of land in the context of the bigger picture of the environment of Wayzata,” said Dr. Bill McGuire. “The quality of life here depends on the balance of open space, housing and commercial usage. The preservation of this land as it is will add to the long term enjoyment of the entire community to which we are committed.”

“By saving this remnant of our past, we are providing the next generation a glimpse into our past and helping to keep our community unique,” adds Merrily Babcock, a citizen advocate for protection. “This will be the best birthday present we could’ve given ourselves.” Wayzata will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year.

The property’s thick forest provides a buffer for the city from the adjacent Interstate-394 which passes by Wayzata. The conservation easement allows the city to develop unpaved walking paths and provide benches for visitors to enjoy the forest. Space in the existing parking lot will be open to people wishing to visit the woods.

This protection effort addresses nearly ten years of controversy surrounding the future of the woods. Protection advocates have claimed the long-term effects of developing the land would cause considerable damage to the trees and increase traffic congestion feeding into Wayzata Boulevard.

The public participation involved throughout the process was remarkable. Beginning in 2002, a series of planning commission meetings about the future of the property attracted hundreds of citizens. Local newspapers were carpeted with letters to the editor addressing the property’s future. In response to citizen requests, in March of 2003, the Wayzata City Council voted unanimously to place a $3 million bond referendum on November’s ballot and allow the citizens to decide on the future of the property. After an intensive citizen-led campaign and considerable public attention throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan region, the bond referendum passed, thereby ensuring critical funding for the project.

The League of Conservation Voters and the Minnesota Environmental Initiative provided assistance on the project. The Cenacle site was identified by the McKnight Foundation’s Embrace Open Space campaign as a critical natural treasure worth conserving.

“The citizens of Wayzata provided the leadership for this protection effort,” said Bob Ambrose, a Wayzata City Councilmember. “All of us should be proud of the dedicated, public-spirited residents who advocated for this project with their friends and neighbors, as well as the Wayzata citizens who voted to tax themselves for this purpose. Innumerable contributions of time, talents and money added up to leaving a tremendous environmental legacy for our children and grandchildren.”

A public celebration is being planned for this summer.

The Trust for Public Land (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. Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for public enjoyment and use. In Minnesota, TPL has protected more than 25,000 acres of land and worked with fast-growing communities to identify and set aside critical open space for people. TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state.

The Friends of the Wayzata Big Woods is an all-volunteer group of citizens organized to save the Big Woods. Their web address is www.wayzatabigwoods.org.

The Minnesota Land Trust is a statewide conservation organization dedicated to protecting Minnesota’s natural and scenic lands and waters. To learn more visit www.mnland.org

The Retreat is an internationally recognized, and successful, nonprofit organization committed to delivering an affordable, accessible residential recovery continuum for chemically dependent men and women. To learn more visit www.theretreat.org