Voyageurs’ proposed shoreline buys are in limbo

The fate of two parcels of prime shoreline in Voyageurs National Park, including the only remaining island on Lake Kabetogama not partially owned by the National Park Service, remains unclear as Congress wrangles over the funding for their purchase.

The lots in question cover 9.5 acres, and $1.55 million has been requested to buy them. Horseshoe Island is the most notable real estate — it covers six acres and would complete the acquisition of the wholly privately owned Kabetogama islands inside the park. (A few islands still have lots in private hands.)

The Minnesota parcels are part of a package of 1.8 million acres identified by the Park Service for purchase (total cost: $1.9 billion) in or near national parks around the United States. The Park Service has asked Congress for $100 million for Fiscal Year 2009 for some of the properties, including the Minnesota lands, but its requests have gotten nowhere.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is trying to draw attention to the matter and has issued a new report to that effect.

Fund raided over the years
The report notes that Congress and several administrations have repeatedly shortchanged or dipped into the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was established in the mid-1960s in part to acquire new lands. The Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service use the fund for their purchases. The dollars come from fees generated by oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf; some of the money has gone for new property over the years, but much of it is raided for other programs.

In a few areas, public and private partnerships have worked to pick up available pieces — the land in the middle of the famous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg is an example — but those coalitions have limited budgets.

“We’ve worked with the park for about 10 years on this issue, and now we’ve started raising money for [our own] fund,” said Cory MacNulty, director of the Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA). “It is a new role for us.”

The VNPA is in a partnership with the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota in a purchase of a 3.4-acre property on Dove Bay at Rainy Lake. It will sell to the park for $350,000 if and when the appropriation comes through.

MacNulty said there are 52 parcels of private property covering 941 acres remaining in the 218,054-acre park.

“One of the great things about Voyageurs Park is that the friends group has been able to purchases smaller pieces when they come up,” said Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director for the NPCA.

“But they need the park appropriation to purchase it from them” so they can buy something else, she said.

Voyageurs National Park was established in 1975. More than 220,000 people visited the park in 2007, according to Park Service records, making it the 176th most-visited NPS site of its 360 properties.

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