Over the past few decades, the St. Cloud area has been one of the fastest growing regions in Minnesota. As residential and commercial development has crept outward into the rural areas, the natural lands that so many have used for recreation and hunting have begun to decline. The water quality of the area’s lakes and rivers has been equally threatened. Fortunately, a partnership of local residents and organizations has come together to protect some of the region’s last remaining complexes of important wildlife habitat. Through this partnership, Peter and Adria Gillitzer recently protected their high quality property through an easement with the Minnesota Land Trust, keeping it in its natural state forever.
Thanks to the generosity of the Gillitzers, now more than 116 acres of natural land and water along Byer Lake will maintain its great benefits to the public. Oak forest and wetlands frame one side of the property, while a beautiful restored prairie fills out the center of the land. Loons, badgers, and other Species in Greatest Conservation Need have made a home for themselves on the healed natural lands. And more than just a beautiful landscape, the land has helped the Gillitzers teach their children about the value of nature.
“They love building forts, hiking, and exploring the land. It’s teaching them a good land ethic; how the land can provide, but at the same time how you have to be respectful to the land,” says Adria Gillitzer.
“We knew this would be an investment for the future of our family, and long term, our dream is for our children to have it. This easement helped make that possible – it makes sure this beautiful property will never be developed and helps us finance the restoration and maintain the property.”
Protecting the land has been a life-long goal for the Gillitzers, and the couple worked closely with the Minnesota Land Trust to develop a long term management plan for the property that will preserve the work they have put into it over the years.
“While our friends were travelling the world and doing fun stuff, we were investing in land,” laughs Adria. “We put our first down payment on this when we were in our twenties, and still dating!”
More than just part of their family’s legacy, this natural land will help protect the water quality of the Sauk River Watershed. By filtering water through wetlands and on the protected shoreline of Byer Lake, the land will benefit all residents of the region.
“This property forms a very important piece of a larger puzzle of protected lands,” says Nick Bancks, program manager for the Minnesota Land Trust. “Thanks to Peter and Adria, as well as the dozens of other families in the area that have worked with the Land Trust, we’re starting to see some real positive impacts for water quality in the Sauk River Watershed.”
“Working with private individuals is the best way for us to protect these important natural assets, while still ensuring whoever owns the land in the future can continue to use and enjoy it,” continues Nick. “By working with the Land Trust, this land will stay in private hands and the Gillitzer family will continue to pay property taxes, as well as to manage and help heal the land for years to come.”
“I really appreciate what the Land Trust did for us,” says Adria. Public land is wonderful, but it’s great to encourage private landowners to preserve their land this way too. Many times private landowners are most connected to the land and know what it needs best.”
The Sauk River Watershed Habitat Protection & Restoration Program is a partnership of organizations working to protect and restore the land and waters of this critical wildlife corridor. The group is comprised of the Minnesota Land Trust, the Sauk River Watershed District, Pheasants Forever, the Stearns, Douglas, and Todd SWCDs, The Nature Conservancy, MN DNR, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. With support from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the coalition works with local landowners to protect the habitat and water quality of the region. Interested landowners can learn more about the program and apply at www.mnland.org/saukgrant.