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Retired Cloquet science teacher at work to protect sensitive shoreline habita

John Brosnan (left), Minnesota Land Trust project manager, congratulates Leonard and Bethel Anderson for successfully obtaining a conservation easement for lakeshore property they own in Aitkin County. Contributed Photo

Long-time Cloquet science teacher Leonard Anderson is staying true to his ideals, even in retirement.

Anderson and his wife, Bethel, recently lobbied to obtain a conservation easement for Turtle Lake property they own in Aitkin County in order to protect the environmental assets of that property for perpetuity.

The Andersons had dreamed of protecting their Aitkin County property for a number of years, and the support available to them through the Minnesota Legacy Grant presented the perfect opportunity to make that dream come true. Among other things, the grant provided support for the out-of-pocket costs associated with completing the application for a conservation easement that would assure that the environmental integrity of the land is protected far into the future.

Over the years, the Andersons began to notice small resorts being converted into large year-round home sites, with a corresponding reduction in natural lake shore. They observed that sand hill cranes visited Turtle Lake, but not those lakes with year-round homes. They noticed the same thing with ring-necked ducks and other birds.

Anderson noted, "This place is not just special to us, it's special to the birds and the monarchs and all the other animals that we see. If we don't do something to protect it, it might not be special in the future."

The Legacy Grant, "Protecting Sensitive Shorelands in North Central Minnesota," provides financial assistance to shoreland owners in Cass, Crow Wing, and Aitkin counties who are interested in protecting the conservation assets of their property. The grant provided funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The objective of the grant is to protect the region's critical shoreland habitat, which sustains fishing, hunting, and other recreational opportunities as well as the economic sustainability for a region of Minnesota dependent on tourism income. It will leverage $6 to $8 million in donated property value from the participating landowners. The program is a partnership between the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation and the Minnesota Land Trust.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, lakeshore development results in an average 30 percent reduction in native tree and shrub canopy and a 66 percent reduction in shoreline vegetation.

Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust, noted, "This project not only protects over 1,200 feet of sensitive shoreline, but the naturalized meadows will continue to sustain monarch butterflies long into the future."

The greatest threat to the property, according to Anderson, is the demand for high quality gravel. The protected land sits on a large deposit of glacial remains, and numerous nearby farms are now gravel pits. Thanks to the conservation easement on their property, the Andersons have ensured that open meadows and undeveloped shoreline will always be features on their Turtle Lake property, regardless of future owners.

Anderson has long been a high profile environmental steward throughout the region. During his teaching tenure, Cloquet High School made outstanding contributions to the environmental stewardship of the St. Louis River watershed. He began the River Watch program in northeastern Minnesota and throughout his years of teaching, involved thousands of students in monitoring a local trout stream and the St. Louis River for both biological and physical characteristics. He served as a mentor and a role model for many students and other science teachers and continues to be a strong active advocate for protecting the river.

Anderson has also been very active in community efforts as an original member of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the St. Louis River Remedial Action Plan and a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the St. Louis River Joint Powers Board, which created the Management Plan for the upper St. Louis River. He was an original member of the St. Louis River Mercury TMDL Partnership and then served on the state Mercury TMDL implementation work group.

Two years ago, the St. Louis River Alliance created the Len Anderson Environmental Stewardship Award, the first time such an award has been granted in the name of a living scientist, to be presented annually to a school that has made outstanding contributions to the environment stewardship of the St. Louis River watershed.

Wendy Johnson of the Pine Journal contributed to this story.