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Renville County approves of DNR land acquisition

OLIVIA -- A compromise will help make possible the acquisition of land for a new wildlife management area in Renville County, but it still leaves open the debate on how to balance conflicting recreational uses on public lands in the Minnesota River Valley.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved plans by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire 293 acres of land adjacent to the Vicksburg County Park along the Minnesota River south of Renville.

The commissioners also attached an amendment to the resolution stating the county's support for multiples uses on public lands. "Whereas 2012 policy does not allow trails on Wildlife Management Areas, Renville County looks forward to policy changes and hopes that this property and others in the Minnesota River Valley will become areas that cover a shared landscape for more to enjoy the assets of our area,'' states the amendment offered by board Chairman Bob Fox.

Aware of the county's concerns, the DNR developed a compromise for the property, according to Jeffrey Zajac with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife office in Redwood Falls. The DNR's Parks and Trails Division will obtain an easement for a trail along the south side of Renville County Road 15 on the northern boundary of the property. It will also acquire an easement for a shorter trail alongside a township road on a segment of the southern boundary of the property on the Minnesota River.

The easements assure that the property's acquisition as a wildlife management area will not block the development of connecting horse trails in the Minnesota River Valley, Zajac explained.

"We're doing the best we can there,'' he said. State policy does not allow trail development on wildlife management areas.

Zajac said the DNR is also open to working out a land swap or agreement so that a portion of the land to be acquired could become part of Vicksburg County Park. The land is bordered on three sides by the park.

There will not be any existing trails lost as a result of the property's use as a wildlife management area. Don Wolter, one of the current property owners, said he is not aware of any trails on it other than a former cow path.

The Minnesota Trail Riders Association, Tatanka Bluffs, and the Green River Corridor are among groups urging the "shared landscape'' or multiple-use approach to public lands in the Minnesota River Valley. They support finding ways to allow a network of trails to be preserved in the river valley for recreational and economic benefit.

Current state policy, based on safety and funding issues, prohibits trail development on wildlife management areas. Fees and other revenues generated by hunters are used to acquire most of the land for the wildlife management areas. Habitat conservation and activities such as hunting, hiking and birding are the primary objectives for wildlife management areas.

While the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will continue to move forward with acquisitions already initiated with willing landowners, it is holding off on new projects in the Minnesota River Valley until a resolution is developed in the debate between trails and hunting uses.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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