Every year, the Minnesota Land Trust acknowledges a truly outstanding land steward who has taken the important step of protecting their land permanently with a conservation easement.
In many cases, these landowners go above and beyond, performing restoration work or partnering with Minnesota Land Trust to increase access to nature experiences through a program like Ambassador Lands. Recipients are typically presented their awards at the annual Treasured Places event in the fall.
Learn more below about the landowners who have been recognized in recent years.
2021 Dan and Cindy Rogers
When Dan and Cindy Rogers ponder the question, “What do you leave for those who follow in your footsteps?” their unequivocal response is “open spaces, free from development.”
The Rogers watched the slow, but steady creep of urban sprawl and the subdivision of large farms into 5- or 10-acre homesites near their hometown south of Bemidji. In 2004, they decided to take action and made the decision to protect their land forever. They placed a conservation easement on much of their property and in subsequent years donated two additional easements, protecting more than 600 acres of beautiful landscape.
The large tracts of open fields, hardwood forests, and wetlands provide critical and needed habitat for species like black bear, wolf, white-tail deer, ruffed grouse, bluebirds, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and humans!
Dan’s profession as a science educator at the Red Lake Indian Reservation provides him opportunity to convey the value of open green space to his students. By offering outdoor experiences at the high school like camping, Nordic skiing, and hiking, Dan hopes to impart a strong connection to the land.
Both Cindy and Dan say they “feel a sense of gratitude” that they were able to protect beautiful land for future generations. They are especially proud that their grandchildren will be able to enjoy and love the land, just as they have.
2020 Florence and Carter Hedeen
Carter and Florence Hedeen have a deep reverence for nature that permeates their lives. For them the land is a place for reflection and rejuvenation, but you won’t find them sitting idle.
From planting thousands of trees, pulling invasive plants, and monitoring water quality, to their volunteer work on the North Country Trail and with the Land Trust, Carter and Florence lead an active life of service that honors their values. They even built their off-the-grid cabin themselves using locally sourced timber and recycled materials!
Situated in Hubbard County, their property is among the earliest Land Trust-held easements, donated in 1998. The easement protects 180 acres of diverse forest, unique wetlands, and close to a mile of shoreline on Skunk Lake, creating a haven for fish and wildlife and helping to preserve a significant amount of natural habitat in a highly developable landscape just 12 miles north of Park Rapids.
Carter and Florence are the second generation of Hedeens to steward the property. They say, “We are incredibly happy that our son Eric, [also a Land Trust volunteer], and his wife share in our love of the land and are eager to continue caring for the property for many years to come.”
2019 Jeanne Kingston
Since protecting her land in 2017, Jeanne Kingston has embarked on an ambitious plant restoration project to battle buckthorn and aid the return of native plants. From a restored prairie, to the tall woods at the edge of William O’Brien State Park, Jeanne’s land is the extended home of black bears, a wide variety of birds, and brook trout in Old Mill Stream.
It is also home to the rescued horses and animals that she cares for, as well as monarchs that she raises and releases. For years she has welcomed school groups to learn about nature, and recently even hosted a crew from TPT to shoot footage about the Land Trust.
But if you ask her, Jeanne will humbly tell you she’s not doing anything special — it’s how she’s always lived with the land, and how she hopes it will be managed in the future.
2018 Mike Niziolek
Mike Niziolek believes his passion for conservation is a blend of nature and nurture. A high school biology teacher, he has demonstrated his commitment to conservation through involvement in many efforts, including running environmental education programs and helping the city of Elk River acquire parkland.
For the past 20+ years, Mike has also worked to restore his own land — about 150 acres — near Elk River. He has been slowly and methodically transforming pastured land to oak savanna, tilled land to prairie, and ditches to wetlands.
“I still have lots more to do,” he says, “but I’m happy that this land is protected forever for future generations.”
2017 Jon and Lori Peterson Family
Jon and Lori Peterson wake each day before sunrise to go about their work, tending to the needs of their organic farm. There’s milking to do and livestock to care for, fencing to repair and pastures to tend.
Every day is a bit different but one thing is constant, they’re committed to being farmers and good land stewards. And in doing so, they are showing others that you can indeed accomplish both.
The Peterson family conservation easements total 740 acres. “We hope that our work with the Minnesota Land Trust will inspire other farmers in the area,” says Jon.
2016 Gordon Bailey
As third generation patriarch of Bailey Nurseries, Gordon Bailey has spent his entire life thinking about plants. Along the way, Gordon nurtured the idea that native plants would improve wildlife habitat at the retreat he and his wife Jo purchased several years ago in Dodge County.
Today, acres upon acres of row cropland have been transformed into a sea of wildflowers and big bluestem. “My granddaughter loves to explore the fields to find bugs and bring them back for us to see,” Gordon recalls.
“Jo and I donated this conservation easement because we wanted to see this land protected for future generations.” And ever since he’s been enhancing the wildlife habitat for future generations of bug gatherers.
2015 Roger and Kay Strand
Some 10,000 years ago as glaciers retreated, rocky deposits were left behind interspersed with shallow pothole lakes that beckon waterfowl and migratory birds.
This is the land for which Kay and Roger Strand’s Stoney Ridge Farm is aptly named and where dozens of wood duck and bluebird houses await feathered tenants.
The Strands are ideal candidates for the Landowner of the Year award. As careful stewards of their land, they have nurtured the habitat that supports the wildlife they cherish.
They are also exceptional ambassadors, having recruited area landowners to commit their own property to perpetual conservation. And they are truly fine neighbors, generously making their land available for gatherings of area Scouts and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.
2014 Don Nelson
Donald Nelson’s land, just a few miles east of Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Rice County, has been in the family since 1880. The land came into Nelson’s hands over 40 years ago. Soon after acquiring it, Nelson planted 16,000 seedlings. He is now 89 years old, and the trees are more than 17 feet tall.
“I intended to maintain the land as best I can then turn it over to a conservation group when I can’t do it anymore.” Just last month, Nelson and the Minnesota Land Trust finalized a conservation easement on the 158-acre property, protecting it forever. He is in the process of donating the land to St. Olaf College.
Nelson is pleased to give the land to his alma mater, hoping it will be used for generations as an educational resource. Don Nelson has worked with the Land Trust in the past to protect nearly 700 acres of land on two other parcels in Olmsted County. He has since donated the land to the DNR, which are now Silver Creek and Rock Dell Wildlife Management Areas.
2013 Ten Mile Lake Association and Jay Cline
The 2013 recipient represents a model of citizen activism resulting in outstanding land protection.
The Ten Mile Lake Association is a group of landowners who are active in protecting and improving the natural environment of Ten Mile Lake, located near Hackensack in North Central Minnesota.
The Ten Mile Lake Association completed a project that protected over 2,000 feet of shoreline in June, adding to 3,000 shoreline feet that was protected by the association in 2008.
The Association actively fundraises for future conservation efforts, provides resources to assist landowners with shoreline improvement, and conducts other outreach efforts with the goal of protecting and enhancing the quality of Ten Mile Lake.
2012 Craig and Honey Blacklock
2012 Landowners of the Year, Craig and Honey Blacklock, have protected over 700 acres in the Moose Lake area, including hardwood and pine forest, wetlands and grasslands provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and plants including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, wood turtles and sharp-tailed sparrows In accepting the award.
Portions of that land have been used as nature sanctuary and site of the Blacklock’s artist in residency program, providing a quiet and inspirational setting for writers and artists to work for weeks or months at a stretch.
Craig recounted growing up in a home where nature was not just something to be photographed, it was valued as something essential to the human condition. “Some places are too important to not preserve”, said Craig. “That’s why the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary acted to permanently protect its Lake Superior land adjacent to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and is now moving forward to protect over 600 acres near Moose Lake.”
2011 Tim and Kathie Cullen
2010 The Howe Family
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Other Minnesota Land Trust Awards
The John Peck Volunteer of the Year Award