Protecting a natural legacy

Eden Prairie / Minnetonka, Minnesota
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Big Woods and Long Lake are saved

March 12, 2003
(Sources include Embrace Open Space and Friends of Wayzata Big Woods websites)

The Friends of the Wayzata Big Woods (FWBW) and the Trust for Public Land announced on March 12 the completion of a difficult campaign to save a rare, remnant of big woods between Interstate 394 and County Road 101. The citizen driven effort prevailed over several development proposals and in the end was made possible by a funding strategy crafted by the Trust for Public Land.

Approximately 15 wooded acres of the 22 acre “Cenacle” property will become a Wayzata Park with trails. The rest of the site, a compound operated by Our Lady of the Family, a Catholic order, is being purchased by a non-profit organization to be refitted as a chemical dependency treatment center.

The FWBW lobbied against various development proposals, developed and distributed informational materials, prompted a successful parks referendum - in the face of sometimes intense opposition - and raised $1,800,000 in donations. The Trust for Public Land was hired as a consultant and negotiator to craft what ended up to be, despite onerous deadlines, a successful deal. At $330,000 per acre, the Wayzata Big Woods has been described as the most expensive land preservation purchase ever in Minnesota on a per acre basis.

The result is the protection of a beautiful wedge of the kind of serene forest ecosystem that a few generations ago embraced Lake Minnetonka. A conservation easement on the property, held by the Minnesota Land Trust, will protect the woods in perpetuity.

"The citizens of Wayzata provided the leadership for this protection effort,” said Bob Ambrose, Wayzata City Council Member. “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."

“The Big Woods is an important piece of land in the context of the bigger picture of the environment of Wayzata,” noted major big woods donor Dr. Bill McGuire. “The quality of life here depends on the balance of open space, housing and commercial usage.”

Referring to a Wayzata anniversary, Friends of Wayzata Big Woods leader Merrily Babcock said “This will be the best 150th birthday present we could’ve given ourselves.”

"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.”

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 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. For more information, visit


(This story has edited from a Minnesota Land Trust press release)

A 21-acre remnant of a 19th-century, Long Lake, farmstead will be preserved as open space, thanks to a conservation easement granted to the Minnesota Land by Ann and Dale Warner..

Ann and Dale Warner still live in the 1867 farmhouse they bought almost 40 years ago has been moved, enlarged and remodeled several times but the farm’s land had been broken up. The largest portion was acquired by Wayzata philanthropist Bruce Dayton and given to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 1997 as part of Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area.

The Warner property adjoins the DNR preserve, a rare mile-long tract of Minnesota’s Big Woods. One of the conditions of their easement will allow hikers and skiers in Wood-Rill to take the trail that runs through Wood-Rill across the Warner’s’ land around Bufflehead Pond, a glacier-made kettle lake. Their farmhouse sits high above Bufflehead Pond, separated by a dense maple forest, with century-old fallen trunks creating a natural, woodsy atmosphere unusual for suburbia. To the south, the view from the house site extends all the way across Lake Minnetonka to the Shorewood water tower.

“It’s such an unusual piece of land,” notes Mrs. Warner. “An appraiser showed us how it could be subdivided into seven good-sized lots, but in the end we just didn’t want to see it disappear.” Mr. Warner adds, “No matter how much the area around here grows, it’s wonderful to know that because of this easement, this land will still be here 50, 100 years from now.”

Funding for the Minnesota Land Trust’s work on this easement was provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund on the recommendation of the Legislative Commission of Minnesota Resources (LCMR). Located in Hennepin County, the Warner tract is the first Land Trust project to receive funds under the LCMR’s Metro Wildlife Corridor grant approved by the legislature in 2003.


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