A Century Old Farm’s Greatest Yield Yet

Wetland & prairie restoration north of Rock Lake inspires Pine City, Minnesota residents.
A side by side before and after image showing a barren, plowed farm field with a red barn in the background beside a prairie teeming with yellow flowers and a small pond

The property in the Minnesota Land Trust’s Rum and St. Croix River Conservation Priority area includes the forested northern shore of Rock Lake and is situated between a Walmart Supercenter, golf course, and two residential developments near the growing community of Pine City, Minnesota.  

The most obvious and, likely lucrative, opportunity for retired farmer Dave Odendahl would have been to sell off his working lands to a real estate developer once he was done farming them. The developer would subdivide the 154 acres to maximize profit on exclusive residential parcels on the golf course and along the Rock Lake shoreline. Perhaps some more commercial development, a strip mall and a coffee shop franchise.

The result would have been fragmented habitat, the loss of mature white pine and northern red oak trees, more localized pollution for the remaining habitat to try to filter, and a lot more impervious surface directing pollutants towards the St. Croix River. It would have also resulted in the loss of habitat for a number of species, including wood ducks and trumpeter swans.   

Dave made a different choice.  

Instead, he has worked tirelessly for the last decade to restore previously drained wetlands and convert a majority of his agricultural fields to prairie. “It’s been a good home for my family and me,” says Dave. “There were eight of us children raised here, and we had a good, sustainable life with strong feelings for conservation.”

154.8 Acres Protected

  • Wetland: 31.7 acres
  • Forest: 31.3 acres
  • Grassland: 29.7 acres
  • Restored Prairie: 40 acres
  • Working land: 18 acres
  • Open water: 4.1 acres
  • 1,405 feet shoreline on Rock Lake & 5,531 feet on unnamed ponds

Wildlife Supported by the Property

  • American badger
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Franklin’s ground squirrel
  • Wood duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Fisher
  • River otter
  • Pine marten
A four photo array depicts a wood duck in flight, white pines on an esker, a river otter swimming, and two monarch butterflies feeding on a purple blazing star

Inspiration and Land Defragmentation

The protected property includes 154 permanently protected acres that buffer the shoreline and waters of neighboring Rock Lake, helping preserve the safety of the lake’s water for the fish that live there, including walleye, as well as the people who recreate on the lake. It also helps protect water further downstream. Water flowing from Rock Lake into the Snake River eventually finds its way into the lower St. Croix River and ultimately the Mississippi River.

According to Ruurd Schoolderman, Minnesota Land Trust Conservation Program Manager, “By keeping the shoreline in its natural state and protecting it from future development, Dave is reducing runoff pollution and filtering the water that the local community relies on. The work private landowners like Dave are doing with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to restore natural lands in the St. Croix watershed is part of a bigger partnership effort that will reap benefits for the whole community as these lands are healed.”

Dave’s property, along with three other conservation easements, protects 430 acres around Rock Lake, creating an even more ecologically significant matrix of connected habitat. It demonstrates that when individuals do their part on behalf of the environment it can inspire others and together big changes are possible! Community members motivated by seeing the farm’s transformation into a vibrant, living landscape are now exploring restoration options for their properties, and the Minnesota Land Trust will be commencing restoration work on the property on the south side of Rock Lake in the fall of 2023.

Lake shoreline with fall foliage trees, yellow, red, and green
Surface of water with slight ripples

Help Protect More Land & Water in Communities Across Minnesota

Your gift helps protect and restore more important and imperiled habitat throughout the state.

Want to protect your property in Aitkin, Benton, Carlton, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, or Pine County? Learn more about protection opportunities in this region, like the Anoka Sand Plain Protection Program and the Twin Cities Region Land Protection Program.

After Farming—Preserving the Multi-Generational Land Legacy

Dave grew up on the family farm, eventually taking it over and working the fields himself. And now, as he transitions out of that work, he’s making sure that the legacy his family created on the land lives on forever through a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust. 

The farm has been in Dave’s family for nearly 100 years and during that time a lot has changed on and around the land. The property was first purchased by his grandfather in 1920. Over the years, the family raised sheep, poultry, a dairy herd and also maintained a vineyard and orchard with grapes, plums, and apples.

A man wearing a hat standing in front of a large tree smiles into the camera
Landowner Dave Odendahl

A lifelong conservationist, Dave has worked to restore balance to the natural systems on the land by converting agricultural fields to prairie and restoring wetlands. “I enjoy nature to a great degree, and somehow I could never see this property being developed,” says Dave. “It’s unique—the lakeshore, the glacial esker along the lake—all of it.” Dave first partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to perform restoration work on the wetlands. “Dave has had a conservation mindset throughout his life and career. We’ve done a number of wetland restoration and prairie enhancements on his property, and this summer we are restoring three more wetlands on the property,” said John Riens of the USFWS.  

Long term, Dave hopes the land he has so carefully stewarded and enriched through his restoration work will continue to benefit not just the local community and wildlife that depend on it but contribute to cleaner water and carbon storage that benefits all of us. The conservation easement and the restoration efforts fit hand-in-glove with Dave’s ethics and the Land Trust’s goals. “This has been the perfect home for me. I can roam the hills, do a little hunting, go down to the lake and go fishing,” says Dave. “And I’ll be helped now with the Land Trust here.”

A Prairie Restoration Blooms

Fall 2020 Initial Seeding

Dave and the Minnesota Land Trust are approaching the end of a multi-season prairie restoration spanning about four years on his property. The project converted 40 acres of agricultural fields to vibrant, colorful prairie.

The initial seeding took place in fall 2020 over an early layer of snow, which helped ensure thorough coverage of the fields. Seeding in late fall allows the native seeds to undergo winter stratification, which is necessary for many native species before then can germinate in the spring. Later snows cover the seeds and protect them throughout the winter until spring arrives.

Spring 2021 Prescribed Burn & Wetland Basin

In spring 2021 a prescribed burn and ditch plug construction were completed, restoring a previously drained wetland basin.

A fire converts green turf grass to a charred area in a controlled burn

According to Haley Golz, Minnesota Land Trust Restoration Program Manager, “The fun part about this project is working with Dave who is smart, thoughtful about the process, and actively engaged.”

A small pond with rocks in the foreground

Fall 2021 Second Seeding

A second seeding took place in fall 2021 to ensure robust native plant cover, then the project entered an active management phase. From 2022 to 2024, active monitoring and maintenance of the fledgling prairie will continue to ensure it properly establishes.

Now that the planting and two seasons of growth are complete, what were once fields of row crops between the farmhouse and Rock Lake provide a continuous wildlife habitat and tantalizing pollinator prairie with species like wild lupine, prairie phlox, and blazing star. The wetland basins in the prairie landscape include swamp milkweed and lake sedge.

Person driving a John Deere tractor over an empty field
Before and after image showing a barren, plowed farm field with a red barn in the background beside a prairie teeming with yellow flowers and a small pond

“Projects like the Odendahl farm restoration really underline the impact local families can have on the overall natural health of their communities,” said Haley. “Without Dave’s dedication and love for this place, we wouldn’t be able to connect these parcels for the benefit of wildlife and people.” For Dave, restoring the waters and land that his family have relied on for over a century is a way to give back to the region he has called home for decades.

Protected Property Photo Gallery

Click or tap on the photos to view full sized images of this beautiful, protected and restored property and related wildlife and habitats.

Article Contributors

Original Website Publication Date: August 5, 2020
Last updated: March 17, 2023

Written by: Sarah Sullivan–Communications & Marketing Manager
Professional review by:
Haley Golz–Restoration Program Manager and Ruurd Schoolderman–Conservation Program Manager

As Seen in the 2023 Spring Review

This property and landowner were featured in the Minnesota Land Trust’s 2023 Spring Review publication, focusing on the importance of protecting Minnesota’s clean and fresh water.

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Thank you for your continued support of habitat conservation, restoration, and nature engagement in Minnesota.

Cover of 2023 Spring Review

More from the Rum & St. Croix River Region

Funding for the acquisition of the Easement was provided by Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Rock Lake (Odendahl) Property Overview Page 2 of 15 (LSOHC). Specifically, the Easement was funded through the St. Croix Watershed Habitat Protection and Restoration Phase I program.


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