Columbus Lake Conservation Area
Acquisition of Columbus Lake Conservation Area will protect 258 acres of quality habitat for game and waterfowl hunters, creating a wildlife corridor connecting Lamprey Pass WMA to other protected habitat.
About the Issue
This project acquired 258 acres of wetland and creek corridor just south of the Lamprey Pass Wildlife Management Area (WMA). It protects nearly all of the shoreline of Columbus Lake, a 20-acre shallow lake, and nearly complete public ownership of a 20+ mile conservation corridor, extending from the WMA and along Rice Creek to the Mississippi River. Previously there was no connection between the WMA and the other tracts of publicly owned habitat. The new parcels have a rich mixture of habitat types, including emergent marsh, cattail marsh, mixed hardwood swamp, shrub swamp, maple/basswood islands, poor fen and rich fen. Most of the area is identified within the state's County Biological Survey as some of the last remaining high quality natural communities in the metro area. The property further provides important habitat for many species in the greatest conservation need, including Blanding’s Turtles, Snapping Turtles, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons, American Bitterns, and Water Willow. The land provides excellent habitat with hunting opportunities for not only waterfowl, but also for pheasant, turkey and deer. Rice Creek also offers opportunities for bow-fishing and angling for northern pike. This was a rare opportunity to obtain high quality habitat that is available to present and future generations of metropolitan area sportsmen and women. The property is within one half hour from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The conservation of Columbus Lake and Rice Creek provides many water quality benefits, including sustaining drinking water quality by preserving an important headwaters area and source of water into the Mississippi River. The acquisition was a priority for Anoka County not only because of the habitat, biological, and recreational attributes discussed above; but also because it is a priority in the County’s Natural Resources Management Plan. The project had broad local support and was a priority for many local sportsmen’s groups. Letters of support for this project were submitted from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and Pheasants Forever. The City of Columbus and local citizens further supported this acquisition. The parcels were selected based on their native habitat quality and the need for protection. The previous landowner had development plans drawn up for this land and intended to develop it had this conservation effort not been successful. Such development would have eliminated the connection between the WMA, this conservation area and the large tract of public land to the south. The County asked The Trust for Public Land (TPL) for assistance in completing this acquisition. TPL then purchased the property from the landowners for its appraised fair market value of $1,207,000. The County in turn, purchased the land from TPL and contributed $250,000 towards this project; $200,000 in capital towards the acquisition itself and $50,000 for initial site development costs including signing, parking and restoration of a field area to native prairie. The purchase price of the property was $1,207,000. With the Lessard Sam's Outdoor Heritage Council funding of $940,000, and the County's $250,000 contribution, there still was a funding gap of $67,000, which TPL generously filled. The land is open to public hunting and fishing. The County worked with the Commissioner of Natural Resources to set the appropriate regulations for the resource in the same manner as was done for the Cedar Creek Conservation Area previously funded by the LSOHC. The County also coordinated with the DNR on management of this land so that it is consistent with that of the neighboring WMA. The Columbus Lake property is of such high quality that it meets numerous goals and priorities in statewide resource management plans, including the Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan (SCPP) and LSOHC’s Metro Urbanizing Section Vision. As noted, the Columbus Lake acquisition has also been identified in the County’s Natural Resources Management Plan, which establishes a comprehensive and prioritized approach to resource conservation across the County. Participants in the development of this plan included the DNR, the University of Minnesota, the Anoka Conservation District, Rice Creek Watershed District and the City of Columbus. The City has further incorporated the Rice Creek corridor into its comprehensive land use plan for permanent protection.