The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with help from The Nature Conservancy, recently acquired and designated 318 acres in Crow Wing County as the new Mille Lacs Moraine Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), the first in the county.
Located near Garrison and Lake Mille Lacs, the SNA is composed of picturesque steep hills dotted with small lakes and wetlands.
The SNA supports a variety of native plant communities from red oak-basswood forest to northern poor fen, a type of wetland. Red-shouldered hawk and cerulean warbler, two species of special concern in Minnesota, nest in the vicinity.
A large area around the SNA was evaluated as having outstanding biodiversity, the highest rank given by the Minnesota Biological Survey. It was considered such high-quality due to the overall size and lack of fragmentation of its native plant communities.
The new SNA was a top priority for acquisition and protection by the SNA program and The Nature Conservancy due to the property’s quality habitat as well as the presence of rare species and native plant communities.
The DNR purchased this SNA with unanimous approval from the county’s board of commissioners.
“I heard a great deal of support for the SNA after a very informative public meeting,” said Phil Trusty, Crow Wing County commissioner. “There was a great turnout with a lot of good, open-minded questions asked.”
Peggy Booth, SNA program supervisor, said the new SNA is exceptional.
“We don’t have anything like it protected in this area. The SNA is at the heart of a much larger area of significant habitat worthy of stewardship,” Booth said.
The DNR established the SNA in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy. Funds for the purchase came from the Reinvest in Minnesota Critical Habitat Match Program through credits provided by The Nature Conservancy, which also worked with the land’s owners, the Hormel family, to ensure the land would be protected. Funding was also provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).
Peggy Ladner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, said the SNA not only is in the watershed of Lake Mille Lacs, but that it also drains into the Rum River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, which provides drinking water to the Twin Cities and local communities.
SNAs are lands open to the public, like state parks or wildlife management areas, but with a different emphasis. SNAs protect the best of Minnesota’s remaining rare species, native prairies, old-growth forests, geologic features and other exceptional features of our natural heritage. Recreational activities consistent with the protection of natural conditions are allowed. SNAs are open for photography, nature observation, education, and scientific research.
Visitors are encouraged to hike in to this site, or snowshoe in during winter months. Mille Lacs Moraine SNA is also open to fishing, hunting and dogs under control. Activities not allowed include camping, campfires, trapping and motorized recreation.