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Residents hope to save land from development

By Kim Johnson
Eden Prairie Sun Current

(This article appeared in the 2/2/00 edition of the Eden Prairie Sun Current and is reproduced here with permission.)

A group of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie residents are uncertain how they will proceed in efforts to 37 acres of open space near Birch Island Park protect from development.

Hennepin County owns the parcel of land abutting the Eden Prairie-owned park and Camp Eden Wood, a day camp serving adults and children with disabilities. In 1999, county officials directed staff to put the property up for sale.

In attempts to preserve the area, the Eden Prairie City Council, under the recommendation of Bob Lambert, the city's director of Parks and Recreation Service Area, requested the county delay selling the land until the city could raise funds to purchase it to add to the city's park system.

In the fall 1999, Eden Prairie resident Jeff Strate learned of the issue. A film producer, Strate has served on several local and state committees involved in preserving the area's remaining open spaces.

This fall, Strate began talking to various people about forming a committee to help Eden Prairie acquire the 37 acres of land from the county, he said. He and his children put posters up along trails in Birch Island Park, asking people to call him if they wanted to join the group.

Over the course of three months, he has received about 60 calls from people in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka, Strate said. "We decided to do whatever we can to protect [the land]," he said. "We haven't had to do a lot of convincing over at city hall with this thing. They want to expand Birch Island Park."

The Friends of Birch Island Woods now has a mailing list of 80 people, Strate said. They have developed a concept plan for use of the expanded park, which includes a camping area, boardwalk, bird-watching decks and trail extensions.

Eden Prairie city staff has applied for a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Metro Greenways Grant to try to raise some of the $1.23 million needed to purchase the land from the county.

Meanwhile, Strate's group has appealed to county officials to convey the property to the city of Eden Prairie for free, he said. Group members have talked with Minnesota legislators to find out if the state can help in anyway. And the group is researching various federal grant programs to identify some they could appeal to for more money.

"Our worry is we don't want the city to run out of time," Strate said. Selling the land to a developer to build on would diminish the value of Camp Eden Wood, he said.

The Hennepin County Board has rejected the city of Eden Prairie's request to delay selling the land, according to city staff reports. However, county officials do support Eden Prairie's efforts to buy the land, Lambert reported at a December meeting of the City Council.

Minnetonka resident Mary Jo Bailey said she was disappointed to hear of the county's decision not to delay putting the property up for sale. Bailey is a member of the Friends of Birch Island Woods. She said people in Minnetonka are getting involved because the property is on the border of the two cities. Trails cross between the communities.

"People don't think of the dividing point as [Highway] 62," Bailey said. "Some of [the 37 acres] couldn't be developed because of the wetlands, but it would be a shame to see a residential development there. There might be a higher use for [the land]."

Bailey added that it was hard to say what the group's next step would be. "It's another setback," she said. "We're probably going to be approaching it from another angle. The challenge is to get the various government agencies to work together."

County Commissioner Randy Johnson could not be reached for comment as of press time. The District 5 commissioner, Johnson represents Eden Prairie, Bloomington and Richfield.

For more information on The Friends of Birch Island Woods, people can check out the group's website at << http://birchisland.tcfreenet.com >>

Reproduced here by permission of Eden Prairie Sun Current.

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