|Aerial view of the addition to Forestville-Mystery|
Cave State Park and South Branch of the Root River.
The Department of Natural Resources on Thursday announced the state bought the addition to the 2,973-acre state park for $1.75 million, culminating five years of collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and a local family that has owned the land since 1947.
The park is about 45 minutes southeast of Rochester in the driftless bluffland region that escaped glaciation, giving the area a steep topography unlike any other in the Midwest. In addition, the park lies in the porous-rock karst region, and its namesake Mystery Cave - with more than 12 miles of subterranean passages - owes its existence to eroded limestone.
The addition includes two miles of cold-water trout streams - Forestville Creek and the South Branch of the Root River - and has been identified by the Minnesota County Biological Survey as an area of "outstanding biodiversity," according to the DNR. The land is home to rare and threatened species, including timber rattlesnakes, milk snakes, cerulean warblers and loggerhead shrikes.
"This is a spectacular addition to what's already one of our most beautiful state parks," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a statement. "It preserves high-quality habitat and protects a unique landscape that will provide public opportunities to hike, fish or just enjoy some of southeast Minnesota's breathtaking scenery."
The Nature Conservancy started exploring opportunities for preserving the property with the family that owned the land five years ago. The organization paid for an appraisal of the property and facilitated discussions between the DNR and the landowner, the agency and the nonprofit said.
Joe Vreeman Sr., who raised five children on the land with his wife, Roene, started acquiring the property in 1947 after returning from World War II.
With both parents having died, the family decided the best way to preserve it for their children and grandchildren was to sell it to the state, said Joe Dean Vreeman, one of the siblings who approved the transaction, according to a DNR news release.
"It was a hard decision for the family to sell," he said. "But we're all very pleased it will be taken care of and preserved."
He said he fondly recalled losing himself for hours at a time as a child in the woods, which include white pine and oak forests.
Now, he noted, that's an opportunity all will have.
Funding for the $1.75 million acquisition was provided by the Reinvest in Minnesota program, which uses money from the sale of critical habitat license plates to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat.