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Cottage Grove land among property sought in Washington County legacy program

Washington County officials have identified a Cottage Grove area as one of its top four targets for the next phase of a voter-approved conservation program.

County planners have pegged the 1,078-acre Mississippi Bend area in the city's southwest corner as one area Washington County will focus on acquiring land for preservation as part of its bonding-funded Land and Water Legacy Program.

The Mississippi Bend had been included on a list of 10 high-priority conservation areas compiled last year. Now, said Jane Harper, the county official who has headed the Land and Water Legacy efforts, Washington County will be seeking in earnest properties to preserve in that and three other areas.

The other priority land protection areas identified by officials recently are:

-- St. Croix bluff lands that border the St. Croix river in Denmark Township,

-- Carnelian Creek corridor in rural May Township located in northern Washington County,

-- Keystone Woods in Hugo.

Harper said in a workshop with Washington County Board members July 10 that four factors contributed to targeting those areas: available matching funds from other agencies; active conservation organizations; large landholdings that would mean large swaths of preserved land; and a belief that conservation efforts in those areas would enhance county parks that are in or near the areas of focus.

The county's next step, Harper said, is to work with local governments, conservation groups and watershed management organizations to identify conservation opportunities in the targeted natural areas, Harper said.

County Board members said they wanted to continue focusing on purchasing land that can be actively used by Washington County residents, not simply preserved with no public access.

"I don't have much interest in acquiring drive-by parcels," said Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek, who represents District 2.

The Land and Water Legacy Program is funded by a $20 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2006 intended to purchase county lands to improve the water quality of lakes, rivers and streams; protect drinking water sources; preserve wetlands and woodlands and guard against development from encroaching upon public bodies of water.