It Takes a Neighborhood

How a group of neighbors protected a community asset

For over 21 years, a group of neighbors in Rochester have worked to preserve and maintain the beautiful natural woods behind their homes. A conservation easement through the Minnesota Land Trust has protected their hard work.

Baihly Woods, Rochester

A stream runs through Baihly Woods.

In 1997 a group of neighbors in Rochester came together to form the Baihly Woods Preservation Association (BWPA), and to purchase a 10.2 acre parcel of woodland directly behind their homes. Motivated by a desire to keep the area in its natural state, the group worked with the Minnesota Land Trust to protect the land with an easement limiting future development.

“The Association studied a number of options but decided to engage with the Minnesota Land Trust based on its excellent reputation and an interest to preserve the woodland in perpetuity, an interest that has grown ever stronger through the years,” says Tim Buchholtz, current president of the Association.

But as many neighbors with good intentions, the full scale of the endeavor they had undertaken wouldn’t become clear until a few years in. “In the past 21 years we’ve realized that nature doesn’t just take care of itself.  Sometimes it needs some help.  Sometimes it needs a lot of help!” says Tim. Erosion, buckthorn, and stormwater runoff challenged the property, and created headaches for the newly founded Association.

The neighbors were determined though – faced with a stream that “looked like a river” at times, and was creating holes big enough to drive a bus into, they created a long-term management plan to ensure the conservation values of the woods remained intact.

excavator and stormwater system installation

Installing an enhanced stormwater system

The City of Rochester installed an enhanced stormwater runoff system, and the landowners restored a natural wetland to absorb excess water. “After years of raising the alarm with the city we finally completed our ravine stabilization project and now have a beautiful new wetlands area with multiple new plantings of trees and bushes,” says Tim. “But most importantly, in the past 21 years our love of this woodland has grown immeasurably and we’ve matured.”

Even as the woods have been improved, challenges remain. Invasive species like buckthorn and garlic mustard are ever-present, and require constant vigilance. The upside is that management has been a community affair, and has brought together neighbors with a common goal. “There are many other invasive control techniques and suggestions outlined in the BWPA Restoration Plan and many of these speak to actively engaging our members in the restoration journey,” explains Tim.

restored wetland

Restored wetlands in Baihly Woods

“This fall we plan to kick off “Project Pathways” in an effort to create a walking path in Zone 2 of the property which will allow us to support maintenance of the BWPA property, provide easier access for ongoing inspections by the Minnesota Land Trust, promote unity of our membership by providing a walkable path for BWPA members, and encourage ownership of our common vision to eradicate invasive species in the woodland.  Our eventual goal is to connect all zones of the property with a ring of perimeter paths.”

Woods in backyard

Kids can now play in fully restored woods right outside their back doors

In the long-term, protecting natural habitat on its own isn’t enough – land needs active management and restoration to remain high quality for people, plants, and animals. Neighborhood organizations like the Baihly Woods Preservation Association are a model for how private property owners can come together to create and manage a community asset in perpetuity.

“Not only has the BWPA woodland been a natural playground for our children, it has also planted in them the seeds of conservation and our hopes that future generations will also come to value these nature preserves and work to protect them. The BWPA woodland has also been an inspiration for other property owners with similar woodland treasures they wished to protect through partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust.”

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