Family selling square mile of southeast land to state
Rushford, Minn. (AP) — The state is buying more than a square
mile of land in southeastern Minnesota from a family that wants to
set the land aside for conservation.
The land – 658 acres between Rushford and Houston – is in an
area that has seen development pressure and increasing property
values in recent years. The state is paying $2.2 million for the
“It’s a very unique piece of property … a bluffy, beautiful
area,” said Paul Sween, an Austin attorney whose family bought the
land in 1979 and 1980. Spread across three ridgetops, the land is
mostly wooded, with oak, hickory and walnut trees. There are wild
turkeys and ruffed grouse, as well as deer.
Wooded land in Houston County was valued for tax purposes at
$300 an acre in 1996, but that has shot up to about $1,400 in 2004
and $2,200 this year, County Assessor Tom Dybing said. And that
figure lags behind current values.
“In the last dozen years, people are coming south out of the
Cities” and from the Rochester area and Iowa, Dybing said.
The property will become the Ferndale Ridge Wildlife Management
Area, southeastern Minnesota’s second-largest upland wildlife
management area behind Whitewater, near Elba, a well-known deer
hunting area. It is to be operated by the DNR and will remain open
to hunting, bird-watching, and other recreation – but not to
motorized vehicles. There will be a small parking lot at the
It’s rare for the state to be able to buy such a large,
contiguous piece of land from one family’s ownership, said Kim
Hennings, DNR wildlife land acquisition coordinator
Gary Nelson, a DNR wildlife manager in southeastern Minnesota,
said that, “due to development, we’re losing portions of our
ridgetops and hardwoods every day,” and the Sween land could have
been sold for housing.
Instead, Nelson noted, “this area will be preserved
That’s an objective of the owners, who include Sween, his wife,
Susan, and his three brothers, now in their 50s and living in Iowa,
Georgia, and Park Rapids.
The DNR is to pay the state’s $2.2 million appraised price for
the property, a bit below the family’s own appraisal, Sween said.
The Sweens will donate $50,000 back to the DNR, which will be
matched under the Reinvest in Minnesota critical habitat
About $1.2 million will come from the $24 million in wildlife
land acquisition funds approved by the past two legislative
sessions. The rest will come from other RIM matching funds –
financed by $30 conservation car license plates – along with
donations from The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Deer Hunters
Association, and the Minnesota chapter of the National Wild Turkey
As required by law, the acquisition was approved this month by
the Houston County Board. The county will gain under a state
contribution in lieu of taxes, Nelson said. Closing of the sale is
expected by early fall.