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Birch Island Woods supporters turn to ‘Plan E’
By Lyn Jerde Sun Newspapers
(Created 7/21/2004 8:48:54 AM)

Jeff Strate says he and others who want to complete the purchase and preservation of Birch Island Woods are now at “Plan E” - as in “every dollar helps.”

The most recent setback - denial of the city’s $400,000 grant request - means Friends of Birch Island Woods needs to do some intense fundraising if the purchase of a little more than four acres of the woods is to become a reality.

Strate, who has long been active in Friends of Birch Island Woods, said the goal is challenging, but not unattainable.

“We’re going to need a lot of help,” he said, “but it can be done.”

Time is running out on the city of Eden Prairie’s option to buy the 4.04 acres from the Picha Partnership and Albert and Abbie Picha, to add to the 31 acres that the city already owns.

In April, the City Council approved paying $2,800 for an option to buy the land, which has an appraised value of $800,000.

The option will expire at the end of September - after which the land will likely be made available for sale to developers if the city does not complete the purchase.

Since the option was acquired, the effort to buy the acres experienced two setbacks.

On May 11, Eden Prairie voters defeated a $22.5 million parks and recreation referendum, which included $1 million in “seed money” to aid in the acquisition of open spaces - including the Birch Island Woods land.

And, the city learned this month that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had denied its application for $400,000 matching grant.

In a memo to the mayor and City Council, Parks and Recreation Director Bob Lambert said the DNR indicated the city’s request “did not rank highly enough to be recommended for funding this year.”

A July 1 letter to Lambert from Wayne M. Sames, supervisor of the DNR’s local grants program, said the Minnesota Legislature (which adjourned without passing a bonding bill) did not appropriate any state money for the Natural and Scenic Area grant program.

As a result, the program had available only about $800,000 through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to distribute throughout the state, he said.

“At this point,” Lambert wrote in his memo, “the City Council should have some discussion about what to tell the property owners in terms of the city’s plans for letting this property be developed, or searching for other options to preserve this property.”

Although Lambert said city staff members know of no other funding options available to the city to buy the acres, Strate said Friends of Birch Island Woods is not giving up.

The organization is seeking volunteers to raise the full $800,000 purchase price - preferably before the option runs out.

Toward that end, the Friends of Birch Island Woods organization has enlisted the aid of the Eden Prairie Foundation, to serve as the organization’s fiscal agent.

Friends of Birch Island Woods is not seeking foundation funding, Strate said. But, with the foundation as fiscal agent, any large contributions that Friends of Birch Island Woods receives are tax deductible.

In a few weeks, Strate said, the organization expects to announce details of its plan for acquiring the acres.

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