Protecting a natural legacy
For the public good
|Residents hope to save land from development|
By Kim Johnson
(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
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.
Sponsored by The Friends of Birch Island Woods. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.