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Land acquired near Litchfield for southern Minn.'s first recreation area

LITCHFIELD -- One of the last remaining lake and woodland areas in Meeker County to be free of development is about to become a "first."

The area around Greenleaf and Sioux Lakes south of Litchfield is on its way to becoming the first State Recreational Area in southern Minnesota.

The Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota announced on Thursday that it had purchased a 387-tract along Greenleaf Lake from its owner, Mark Geyer.

The property will be transferred to the Department of Natural Re-sources, wh-ich will protect the area as a recreation area. The 386 acres include nearly all of the shoreline on Greenleaf Lake.

It is considered the "core'' of what could eventually become a 1,200-acre recreation area, according to Dorian Grilley, director of the Parks and Trails Council.

"It's a very nice place,'' Grilley said of the property. The undeveloped shoreline is surrounded by hardwood forest and native prairie.

It will now be up to the public to decide how that property can be best protected and enjoyed for generations to come. The DNR will seek public input starting early next year in the process of developing a management plan for the recreation area, said Mark Matuska, director of the Minnesota DNR's southern region.

It's likely that plans for the area will include trail development and opportunities for fishing on the lake. Matuska said some people have already made known their interest in seeing camping opportunities as well. As a recreation area, hunting could continue to be allowed on the lands.

The recreation area will make possible a goal that has been sought in the Litchfield area since the 1930s. The Litchfield to Hutchinson area is one of the few areas in the state where a state park is not available within a 30-mile drive. In a news release announcing the development, Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, and Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, both applauded the opportunities that the site will make available to residents in Meeker and McLeod counties.

Grilley offered credit to both Geyer and Meeker County for their roles in making the recreation area possible. The landowner had rejected offers from developers in hopes of seeing the lands protected for the future. "He was very patient,'' said Grilley, pointing out that efforts to acquire and protect this site date back several years. Meeker County showed its support by providing a no-interest, $300,000 loan to the Parks and Trails Council for the acquisition.