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The land was originally owned by the Cooper family, who reportedly received the property in lieu of a bonus payment from Pillsbury, a family employer, likely in the 1920s. The barn is expected to become an interpretive center. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Newest state park is unveiled in Hubbard County

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The land was originally owned by the Cooper family, who reportedly received the property in lieu of a bonus payment from Pillsbury, a family employer, likely in the 1920s. The barn is expected to become an interpretive center. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

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State park signs were being posted Friday, a day after the 1,000-acre parcel of land and 221-acre pristine lake in Hubbard County's northwest tier were acquired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

La Salle Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) in Fern Township is home to Minnesota's second deepest lake, a coldwater stream, high-quality forest and wetlands and more than a half-mile of Mississippi River Headwaters shoreline.

And it's now open to the public.

The SRA will be managed as a satellite unit of Itasca State Park, which is eight miles to the southwest.

With a depth of 213 feet, the lake supports walleye, bluegill, northern pike and crappie populations.

The SRA includes La Salle Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) purchased in 2010. The forested landscape features red and jack pine forests and woodlands, large white pine, balsam fir and white spruce forests, and a high quality old-growth northern white cedar forest.

An area of the property is home to 40 full hook-up campsites, several year-round cabins and an indoor recreation facility with a pool and kitchen, built in 2007.

The developed facilities will not be opened immediately, but a water access, which has limited parking, is open.

The land will provide recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing and wildlife observation. It connects a number of parcels already in public ownership.

Initially, visitors will find limited parking. Foot traffic only will be allowed in the interior of the property.

The area has a few hiking trails, a snowmobile trail nearby and is in close proximity to a popular canoe access on the Mississippi River. There's also talk of a bike route from Itasca State Park to La Salle Lake SRA.

"The importance of preserving La Salle Lake for wildlife and public enjoyment cannot be overstated," said Katie Magozzi, executive director of the Park Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. She arrived for a tour of the area Friday.

"Tourism is a major economic engine for our area. As the tourism marketing entity for this area, we are keenly aware of the importance of pristine public land to the tourism experience. This is a win-win for local business, local government and the state," she said.

The DNR will now go through the master plan process to determine future development, explained Matt Snyder, Itasca State Park manager. This will include public meetings and formation of a citizens advisory group.

Local citizens, local units of government and legislators have been strong supporters.

"The high biodiversity of natural resources combined with the comforts of home," sets this SRA apart from others, Snyder said of the cabins, pool, a barn and other amenities on the property.

The parcel's former landowners had originally planned to develop with lake homes, Snyder said. "But with the economy, that never came to be."

The area had been considered for purchase by the DNR in the past, Snyder said. But without funding, nothing could be done - until voters gave the Legacy Amendment the nod.

"An area of this magnitude is a rare and precious jewel," Magozzi said. "It's a perfect fit for Legacy Amendment funds. It's a stunning piece of property set aside for perpetuity."

The Trust for Public Land, a conservation organization, worked with the DNR to acquire the land for about $8.5 million. Most of the funds came from the outdoors portion of the state's Legacy Amendment, which voters approved in 2008.

The DNR is developing a management plan using an interdisciplinary approach for the SRA, Snyder said. All agencies "will bring their specialties to the table,"

he said of forestry, fisheries, parks and trails, wildlife and other departments.

The plan will address natural and cultural resource management goals and activities, interpretive programming and improvements to existing recreational facilities such as the campground, boat access and cabins.

It also will consider the potential to expand recreational facilities at the site and opportunities to connect with other recreational trail systems in the area.

The newly acquired SRA area south of CSAH 9 will be open for deer hunting Nov. 5; the SNA area north of CSAH 9 has been open to hunting. (Hunters should refer to page 113 in the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook and the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov for more information, or call Itasca State Park at 218-266-2100.

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