Conference named Crow Wing County Conservationist of the Year

December 17, 2020
The Minnesota Conference and Camp Minnesota were recently awarded the 2020 Crow Wing County Conservationist of the Year Award for their efforts to preserve Star Lakes Wilderness Camp in Pequot Lakes through a conservation easement. In August, Minnesota Land Trust paid the conference $1.218 million for the easement, which covers 383 acres of the camp. The conservation easement will ensure the preservation of the pristine land so that it can be enjoyed for years to come while also generating resources for the conference’s camping and retreat ministry. Below is a press release sent out by the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District about the award.

On Dec. 16, 2020, the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board of Supervisors met with the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church staff, camp staff, and Bob Hoeft, Crosby Resident to provide them the 2020 Crow Wing County Conservationist of the Year Award.

According to Melissa Barrick, District Manager, “About five years ago I had a chance to walk and visit the camp with Bob Hoeft. I knew immediately this place was something special and needed to be protected. Due to the proximity to Crosslake and Pelican Lake, the camp land had great potential for future lake homes, condominiums, or other developments. The camp contains over 441 acres of old-growth forest, wetlands, surrounding Little Star Lake (50 acres), and bordering Duck, Henry, and Star Lakes. Star Lake Wilderness Camp is one of Crow Wing County's hidden gems. This camp compared to other camps in the area has a true wilderness feel with very primitive camping, picnicking, and buildings.” 

This camp is a part of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church established in the 1960s.  

According to Keith Shew, director of camp and retreat ministries for Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church,  “For generations of Minnesotans, time at camp, surrounded by a caring camp community while immersed in beauty and peace of nature, has changed hearts and lives in profound ways. Campers leave knowing that they are part of something truly special. Star Lake Camp has been part of this tradition for many years.”

“The development around the area is overwhelming,” says Rev. Bob Hoeft, former director of camping, and current chairperson for the Minnesota Annual Conference trustees’ Star Lake task force. “With some vision, however, this can become a very exciting place for ministry and community development—not just for young people, but adults as well. The setting it’s in, the exposure to the outdoors—including ticks and poison ivy!—offers an experience that just doesn’t exist in many places anymore, including here in Crow Wing County.”

Those pressures of development meant that the Church had a challenging dilemma: Sell the property to fund ongoing operations, or find a way to preserve the rich legacy of conservation they had worked so hard to instill in generations of campers?

Thankfully, in 2016 the Minnesota Conference’s Board of Trustees elected to pursue a conservation easement. That decision meant that the United Methodist Church would continue to own the property for the camp, receive revenue to maintain the property, and the land would be protected from future development—forever.

In 2020, the Camp protected 383 acres of woods, deep- and cold-water fish habitat, wetlands, and over 4.6 miles of shoreline through a permanent conservation easement. The easement process was completed by the Minnesota Land Trust and Northern Water Land Trust.

“These are sacred spaces where we share our community and get kids outside to experience nature and learn our role in stewarding nature,” said Shew.

“This conservation easement truly is a gift to all Minnesotans and the surrounding area lakes,” said Barrick. “This project dovetails with many of the watershed protection efforts occurring in the Pine River Watershed. The Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District proudly nominates Star Lake Wilderness Camp for its long-term commitment and effort to protect this unique and diverse untouched land. We are grateful to Minnesota Land Trust staff Ruurd Schoolderman, Northern Waters Land Trust, and Church’s protecting this unique property forever!”

This permanent conservation easement was made possible by the members of the Minnesota Land Trust, with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.