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Becker County is honored by AMC, BWSR for conservation

With so much of its livelihood dependent upon maintaining the purity of its natural resources, Becker County has long been on the cutting edge of conservation -- and earlier this month, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) recognized those efforts with a very special honor.

For the first time ever, the BWSR and AMC joined forces to present County Conservation Awards to four Minnesota counties, including Becker, at the AMC annual convention and trade show in Duluth on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

"Minnesota counties have tremendous responsibilities for protecting and improving water quality, so BWSR and AMC will be presenting these awards each year to recognize some of the outstanding local accomplishments that improve our state's natural resources," said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director.

Becker County's nomination was made by the Becker Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), in recognition of the county's efforts to amend its zoning ordinance to include more restrictive shoreline standards for environmental lakes than those required by state laws and rules -- and most particularly, for its contributions to the development of the Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School Conservation Education Site in Audubon.

"When the BWSR sent out a call for nominations, this (LP-A) project immediately came to mind right away," said Brad Grant, director of the Becker SWCD. "It's been such a tremendous effort by all the entities involved."

Development of the conservation learning area near the LP-A Elementary School in Audubon began in 2000, when the Becker County Board of Commissioners "donated" 40 acres of tax-forfeited land to the LP-A School District expressly for this purpose.

According to Becker SWCD director Brad Grant, the county had many options for handling this land, which was located within the city limits of Audubon. Selling it to an agricultural interest for farming or to a housing developer were both very viable options.

However, due to the fact the property had direct access from the Lake Park/Audubon (LPA) Elementary School, the commissioners made a unique, bold decision to turn the land over to LP-A for use as an Environmental Demonstration and Learning Area.

Since 2000, there have been many improvement projects to the property and the projects continue to be installed today, and more are planned for the future. These improvements are being accomplished through the cooperation of 16 original and six additional "partners."

The centerpiece of the Environmental Learning Area was the installation of a water control structure to restore a 13-acre wetland. Engineering assistance and installation was accomplished by the Becker SWCD, West Central Joint Powers Board, and private contractors. Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Ducks Unlimited provided monetary funds and materials. The Buffalo-Red River Watershed District and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-Waters assisted in obtaining permits.

The City of Audubon and adjacent landowners signed water impoundment permission papers. Approximately 10,000 feet of windbreak tree rows were installed through assistance of the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency.

All cropland acres were voluntarily released from crop base by the tenant farmer and seeded to native grass and flowers, with seed provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Audubon Fire Department donated its services for prescribed burns of the area to enhance the native plantings, and LP-A students planted three acres of wildlife-enhancing trees. Bird nesting houses, wood duck houses, and waterfowl nesting cones were donated and installed by DNR Wildlife staff and the Cormorant Lakes Sportsmen Club.

Donors such as St. Olaf College and a private company, SJE-Rhombus, contributed towards the installation of 1,500 feet of walking trail. The family of Sue Schmidt, who served many years as a secretary for LP-A Elementary School, donated a Memorial Lookout when Sue passed away.

A boardwalk between two restored wetlands will be installed with funds secured from the LP-A School District. An invasive species weed control demonstration will be done through the donation of the Becker County Agriculture Inspector's Office.

Cooperation, willingness to assist, and contributions from 22 different entities is resulting in a great area for environmental demonstration. Additional projects are also being planned for the site.

Other counties honored with Conservation Awards this year included Fillmore, Le Sueur and Nobles.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454