Nature Conservancy buys 2,110 acres in heart of Superior National Forest

Wild land, once marketed as prime sites for cabins, will be protected and remain undeveloped.

A view of a calm lake with a slightly cloudy sky.
Part of the 2,110 acres parcel of land recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy in the heart of the Superior National Forest west of Tofte. The land, once marketed as prime cabin sites, will now remain undeveloped.
Nature Conservancy photo by Jason Whalen

By John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

More than 2,000 acres of private land within the Superior National Forest will remain undeveloped under a real estate deal announced this week by the Nature Conservancy.

The 2,110 acres of private land is surrounded by national forest land and includes six wild lakes, 3 miles of trout streams, 972 acres of wetlands and tracts of old-growth white spruce and white cedar.

It’s also near, but not inside, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which means it could have been sold to developers for recreational cabins or other development.

The land, about 15 miles west of Tofte in Cook County, is part of the Temperance River watershed that flows into Lake Superior.

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Mike Freed, a retired forestry professor who lives in Minnesota, bought the land in 1994 when a land development company listed it for sale as sites for multiple new cabins. Freed agreed to sell it to the Nature Conservancy at a discount below market value to keep it wild.

“This area is very important to the psyche and the emotional needs of a lot of people in Minnesota,’’ Freed said in a statement announcing the sale. “I’ve been privileged to take care of this land and I want to pass it onto someone who can continue to care for it.”

The Nature Conservancy will hold title to the land, although it could eventually be sold to the Forest Service.

“I grew up on wild lakes in Minnesota. These places are rapidly disappearing,’’ Freed said. “My gift to the people of Minnesota is 2,000 acres of wild land that will remain in some kind of conservation ownership. This is the gift that the people of Minnesota deserve.”

The forest is in an area considered important to maintaining biodiversity and species that would otherwise be vulnerable to climate change, including moose, songbirds, loons, eagles and osprey. Keeping large blocks of undeveloped forest is considered critical to maintaining wildlife and plant diversity and storing the carbon that otherwise causes climate change if released into the atmosphere.

“If we start punching holes in intact forests you create barriers for the movement of wildlife,” said Jim Manolis, forest conservation program director for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. “You need these large blocks of forest to give species that kind of opportunity.”

The Nature Conservancy said it may practice sustainable timber harvesting on parts of the land to encourage species diversity and for wildlife habitat.