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After buying 39,000 acres, Floodwood investor owns 17 percent of private land in Lake County

Lake County officials are working with a Floodwood investor who recently bought 39,000 acres in what is believed to be among the largest forest land purchases by a private individual in recent state history.

Roy Marlow, who has a long local history as an investment manager, bought all the land Potlatch Corp. owned in Lake County.

The purchase, which Marlow said took "years" to put together, makes Marlow among the largest individual landowners in Minnesota. His holdings now surpass the Rajala lumber family of Itasca County, who manage about 35,000 acres.

Marlow completed part of the nearly $15 million deal in March and part in June, according to the Lake County assessor's office.

Matt Van Vleet, spokesman for Spokane, Wash.-based Potlatch Corp., said the company sold a total of 42,761 acres to a single purchaser--Marlow--of which about 39,000 acres are in Lake County. The rest, about 3,700 acres, are in St. Louis County.

His Lake County land, in 40-acre parcels, is spread throughout the county in close to 1,000 chunks from Two Harbors to near Ely. Some parcels are clustered together into larger plots, some as large as 640 acres. Marlow said he has no specific plans for the land.

"We may be selling some of it, do some logging, some gravel sales, and preserving some of it," he said. "Nothing is changed."

Though the state has ample publicly owned county, state and federal forests, nearly half of all forested land in the state is privately owned. How that private land is managed is a key factor for wildlife habitat, water quality, public recreation and wood supply for mills.

Conservation groups and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are concerned that privately owned forest in Minnesota is being broken into small parcels, sold and developed at a pace that will damage wildlife habitat with new roads and buildings. Development of forest land also tends to change access for loggers and often means new cabin and home owners closing the land to hunters and hikers.

But Marlow said the public will have more access to the land, as he doesn't plan to post "no trespassing" signs, except for a few parcels. "We have no intention of restricting the land," he said.

Marlow said he began buying land as an investment about 20 years ago; he has worked with Potlatch before and hopes to again.

"This was just a large transaction; that's why it's getting attention," he said.

Lake County Land Commissioner Tom Martinson said county officials and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff are working with Marlow on some possible land swaps. The county is looking at potentially swapping 3,000 to 4,000 acres, he said. Any land swap would have a public hearing.

Marlow's deal with Potlatch involves more acres than Minnesota's largest state park, St. Croix, which is 34,000 acres.

The deal accounts for a small percentage of all the land in Lake County. But because so much of the county is owned by the state and federal government, Marlow ended up buying about 17 percent of all the privately owned land in the county, or more than one of every six acres of private land.

Other large landowners in Minnesota include UPM-Blandin at 195,000 acres. Potlatch retains about 270,000 acres after the sale and falls to the state's second-largest private landowner. Forest Capital Partners, an investment company, owns about 290,000 acres, most of it formerly owned by Boise Cascade Corp., and is the state's largest private landowner.