Sugar Hill Easment Links Forestry and Recreation

By KBJR News 1

June 15, 2011 Updated Jun 15, 2011 at 9:29 PM CDT

GRAND RAPIDS, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)----The Iron Range economy depends to a great extent on the timber industry.

Yet over–harvesting timber and over–developing land could threaten another leg of the area economy...tourism.

The Sugar Hill Forest Easement area brings sustainable forestry and recreation together in Grand Rapids.

Established in 2007, the easement was the first in the area, created with the purpose of preserving and protecting the land.

With the help of federal funding from the U.S Forest Service, state funding from the Department of Natural Resources and Local funding from the Blandin Foundation the Rajala Company settled the deal for nearly $1.5 million.

"The Rajala company still maintains the title to the property, most of the property, what the state essentially purchased was an easement which requires best management practices for forest purchases, and ecological and conservation value protection, as well as public access to the land for recreational purposes," said John Rajala, Vice President of the Rajala Company.

One of the stipulations of the easement is that the property must be maintained by a single owner and cannot be developed... only used in an environmentally friendly manner.

Any new buyer would have to purchase the property in full and uphold the easement protections.

There are several different forest types within in the Sugar Hills area, ranging from pine wood and hard wood to boreal forests.

The beauty of the area makes it a recreation Mecca.

"The idea that this is a recreational area it just is a way of people thinking of grand rapids so they come here with the idea that they are going to get to use the outdoors, they shop in our retail areas, they stay in our hotels they eat at restaurants and they just bring a lot of dollars basically to the community," said Scott Gerling, a recreational hiker.

David Parrish, owner of Itasca Trail Sports in Grand Rapids says his business directly benefits from tourists attracted to the area.

"We rent a lot of skis to those people and mountain bikes as well," said Parrish. "So we do have a lot of folks from that area from outside the community. And like I said, we rent a lot of skis, and a lot of those people come out to the area because its really friendly. There are several trail systems so there's ones for beginners, ones for experienced. You can pretty much run the gamut."

In the last twenty years Minnesota has lost over one third of its industrial forest land Over the next twenty years, the U.S Forest service estimates that 2.6 million acres of private forest land will be developed into housing subdivisions and retail establishment's nation wide.

Easements like that of the Sugar Hills help to ensure that doesn't happen.

Posted to the web: Jennifer Walch