Aerial view of peninsula
January 22, 2021
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Saving a rare forested peninsula for Lake Shetek State Park

Parks & Trails Council secured a treasured landscape for Lake Shetek State Park during a live auction on Oct. 24, 2020. The sale is expected to be finalized by May.

The 24.5-acre property, with 3,000 feet of lakeshore along Lake Shetek, was put up for auction by the Boy Scouts of America Sioux Council. They had owned the property since 1941 and since that time have meticulously maintained its old-growth forest, which boasts oak trees over 200 years old. Just a few buildings and foot trails have been etched into the forest. Noxious plants like buckthorn have been kept out. In other words, this property is stunningly unique.

On the eastern border of the property sits the state park. In fact, one must travel through the park to access the property. The Minnesota Legislature has long included this land as a potential property to purchase for the park. But alas, the MnDNR stood no chance at auction; the speed with which it was announced paired with the volatility of an auction are simply outside the public agency’s protocols.

Developers however showed no such constraints. They understood this was prime real estate with zoning allowing for five separate subdivisions. Of course, such development would alter the land irrevocably and evaporate any chance that it could one day become part of the state park.

With 74 other bidders all vying for this old-growth forest, P&TC placed the final bid at $1.85 million and sealed its fate to be public land for the park. Once we officially take ownership, we will hold the land in trust while we work with the MnDNR to convey it to the state park in the coming years.

 

This is the most expensive project Parks & Trails Council has undertaken in terms of total dollar amount spent. Others have cost more per acre but encompassed smaller acreage. Part of what makes this place so special, and hence so expensive, is that it is one of the last undeveloped pieces of lakeshore along popular Lake Shetek.

At nearly two square miles in area, Lake Shetek is the largest lake in southwest Minnesota and among the top 70 largest lakes in the state. For a region with relatively few lakes, it is a destination with people coming from miles to enjoy the big lake experience.

Even at the time when the Boy Scouts bought the peninsula 80 years ago, forested land was a rarity around Lake Shetek. The combination of prairie fires followed by plows and then home constructions took its toll on forests. But, this land benefited from a unique placement that protected it from wildfire. And for whatever reason, previous landowners left this forest intact, even as the land immediately behind it was farmed. That adjacent land has since been purchased for the park is being restored to prairie.

Before settlers arrived, this land was part of the Dakota homeland. According to park manager Roseann Schauer, past archeological digs have turned up Native American artifacts on the peninsula.

While non-burial archaeological sites are not protected from harm on private lands in Minnesota, state park protocols ensure they remain protected. Archeological reviews are conducted before any ground disturbance is done. Staff then document and protect any artifacts discovered. The park manager at Lake Shetek sees this as an opportunity for interpretation that helps tell a fuller story of the region’s cultural history.

 

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