Partner of the Year

An annual recognition of outstanding partnership awarded by Minnesota Land Trust

Every year, the Minnesota Land Trust recognizes a truly outstanding partner. These mutually beneficial partnerships are marked by a shared mission, common goals, cooperation and collaboration, and resource-pooling that helps both organizations maximize their impact.

Recipients are typically presented their awards at the annual Treasured Places event in the fall. Learn more about the partners who have been recognized in recent years.

2022 City of Duluth and Mayor Emily Larson

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson accepts the Minnesota Land Trust’s award for 2022 Partner of the Year at Treasured Places, held in Duluth, MN. Also pictured is Minnesota Land Trust CEO Kris Larson.

2021 Camp Olson YMCA and Jenny Sall (Board President), Russ Link (Executive Director)
Two people pose for a photo, smiling at the camera holding an award plaque
Camp Olson Board President, Jenny Sall, and Executive Director, Russ Link

When stepping foot in YMCA Camp Olson, prepare for a fresh, cleansing breeze, the echo of a loon call, and an ethos committed to “preserving a paradise of beauty for youth and their leaders for years to come” per the words of camp founders E.O. and Bella Olson.

To cement the camp’s commitment to preserving the Northwoods, Camp Olson has permanently protected over 700 acres, nearly half of the camp’s land base, and 20,000 feet of shoreline on six lakes during the past three years.

But their commitment did not stop there, they dedicated a portion of the money they received from the conservation easement to their endowment that supports youth scholarships, ensuing that the legacy of Camp Olson endures and is accessible for generations to come.

Board President of Camp Olson YMCA, Jenny Sall stated, “We are thrilled to continue honoring the legacy and dreams of our founders. These easements will provide Camp Olson a future of optimism, sustainability in our operations and on our property that supports our commitment to environmental stewardship for future generations.”

It probably comes as no surprise that Camp Olson was selected to receive the Partner of the Year Award. Camp Olson is truly living their values and leading by example through committing to conservation in a meaningful way.

“We are delighted that Camp Olson is preserving the Northwoods for generations to come and thrilled that together we are ensuring scholarships for the next generation of youth to respect and love the outdoor world,” says Kris Larson, executive director at the Minnesota Land Trust.

2020 Rainy Lake Conservancy and Carolyn Wallis (Board President)
A woman wearing glasses holds an award plaque and smiles into the camera
Carolyn Wallis, Rainy Lake Conservancy Board President

Over the last 20 years, the Rainy Lake Conservancy, a non-profit Canadian organization, has worked side by side with the Land Trust to further land protections in the Rainy Lake area watershed and has had an unmistakable impact on the area.

A rare example of a cross-border land trust partnership, the groups have successfully protected miles of shoreline and nearly 500 acres of land including the place where Ernest Oberholtzer, a founding member of the Wilderness Society, lived.

Next to Voyageurs National Park, Rainy Lake is enormous at 227,604 acres and straddles the borders
of Ontario and Minnesota. The area is celebrated for its wilderness qualities of clean water, majestic red and white pines, rare species, uncluttered shorelines, and exceptional beauty.

The Rainy Lake Conservancy has protected numerous properties, funded and participated in research for various species and fisheries, and has successfully advocated for new governmental shoreline protections on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake.

“We are thrilled by the award and grateful for our partnership,” says Carolyn Wallis, current President of Rainy Lake Conservancy. “It’s important to protect this area so that present and future generations can continue to enjoy it as a wilderness.”

2019 Washington County and Sharon Price, Rick Hodsdon, Commissioner Stan Karwoski, June Mathiowetz
Four people pose for a photo, smiling, with an award plaque
Sharon Price, Rick Hodsdon, Commissioner Stan Karwoski, and June Mathiowetz receive the Partner of the Year 2019 award for Washington County

From the time the Land Trust established its roots in Washington County, the east metro has been a top priority conservation area. Since the beginning, Washington County has been a dependable and responsive partner.

They have provided leadership in shepherding conservation projects through to completion and have made great efforts to prioritize areas of importance for species habitat, water quality, and community engagement.

The data and support they have provided has also enabled The Land Trust to better focus resources to ensure that jointly both organizations are maximizing their impact in the metro. This forward-thinking work protects the natural resources that ensure a high quality of life for all in the Twin Cities.

2018 Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, USFWS and John Riens, Sheldon Myerchin, Shawn Papon
Three men wearing polo shirts pose for a photo holding an award plaque
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, John Riens, Sheldon Myerchin, and Shawn Papon

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has certainly lived up to its name.

Through a burgeoning relationship with The Land Trust, the program is playing a critical role in restoring natural habitat on private easement lands across the state.

As the program’s state coordinator, Sheldon Myerchin oversees nearly a dozen field biologists who work with landowners to restore wetlands and grasslands by encouraging natural hydrology, removing invasive species, planting
native prairies and more.

The partnership with the Land Trust is a win-win, as Sheldon sees it. “We both have a common mission to conserve land in Minnesota,” he says. “By focusing on areas where we can collaborate, we can pool our resources and achieve more wildlife habitat protection and restoration.”

2017 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Jaime Edwards
Three people pose for a photo, smiling, the middle person holds an award plaque
Pat Collins, Minnesota Land Trust Conservation Program Manager; Jaime Edwards Minnesota DNR Wildlife Specialist and award recipient; and Kris Larson, Minnesota Land Trust Executive Director

As a wildlife specialist with the Minnesota DNR, Jaime Edwards is guided by a personal desire to protect and restore Southeast Minnesota’s wildlife habitat. And that’s a big job. Jaime spends a great deal of time in the field, focusing particularly on the region’s at-risk species and their habitat.

One of her specialties is the state-threatened timber rattlesnake (hence her nickname, “the rattlesnake lady”). She also educates landowners, working with them to implement habitat restoration on their property.

Jaime’s commitment and her connections have been critical in helping The Land Trust make progress with its goals of establishing conservation easements in the region.

2016 Three Rivers Park District and Tom Dowell
A man standing in front of a beautiful fall landscape poses for a photo, smiling, holding an award plaque
2016 Partner of the Year Three Rivers Park District and Tom McDowell

This year’s honoree is the Three Rivers Park District, which owns and manages two conservation easements held by the Land Trust. Gale Woods was permanently protected in 2000 by Alfred and Leona Gale, who conveyed the land to the Park District.

Nearby Kingswood Park was protected in 2011 prior to being purchased by the Three Rivers Park District. Both properties would have been prime targets for development in western Hennepin County and now preserve open space, scenic views, wildlife habitat and water quality.

The Land Trust has worked with local governments, park districts and willing landowners to protect parkland through conservation easements. Similar projects have been completed with the cities of Red Wing, Grand Marais, Lake Elmo and others.

2015 Saint John’s Abbey and University and Brother David Paul Lange, Tom Kroll
Two men standing in front of a brick wall smiling, holding awards plaques
2015 Partner of the Year, Brother David Paul Lange (Saint John’s Abbey) and Tom Kroll (Saint John’s University)

Saint John’s University and Saint John’s Abbey are this year’s Partners of the Year. Under the leadership of Tom Kroll, Outdoor University Director and Abbey Arboretum Land Manager, Saint John’s has been instrumental in establishing a network of individual landowners within the Avon Hills region who are interested in conserving the special and unique features of the landscape.

This Avon Hills Initiative has successfully generated funding to accelerate land conservation in this rapidly developing area.

The visionary guidance of Tom Kroll is also evident in the prioritized bidding process that he developed and was tested in Avon Hills, and now has been rolled out to other areas of the state.

2014 The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Rich Biske
Two men smile into the camera posing for a photo, standing in front of a sign reading "Protecting the places you treasure...forever."
2014 Partner of the Year, Rich Biske and The Nature Conservancy; Kris Larson, Minnesota Land Trust Executive Director

The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, has been an important partner since The Land Trust’s very beginnings, working on joint funding proposals, projects and legislative issues throughout the years.

This partnership has been especially significant in the southeast Blufflands, thanks to the leadership of Rich Biske. The Nature Conservancy and The Land Trust initiated the Root River Protection and Restoration Partnership several years ago and have since expanded this partnership to the entire Southeast Blufflands thanks to funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

The Nature Conservancy has led the effort with public land acquisition and restoration projects while the Minnesota Land Trust has completed strategic conservation easements on private lands. This partnership will help significantly accelerate land conservation and water resource protection throughout southeast Minnesota for years to come

2013 Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation and Paula West, Maggie McGill
Two women smiling into the camera stand next to a sign reading, "Protecting the places you treasure...forever," one holding an award plaque
2013 Partner of the Year Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation, Paula West and Maggie McGill

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate recipient of this year’s partnership honor than the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation (LLAWF), led by Executive Director Paula West. Since 1995, this organization has been dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural assets within the Leech Lake Watershed.

Among other sources, the Foundation has received funding by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) that accelerated conservation work in its original focus area, Cass County.

“The Leech Lake Watershed is part of the heart and soul of our Minnesota heritage,” observed Central Lakes Project Manager John Brosnan. “The Minnesota Land Trust is proud to be in partnership with this exceptional organization.”

Because of the success of that program, the scope of the Foundation’s work has expanded to include Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin Counties with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). All three easements profiled in this publication stem from the work of the LLAWF.

Minnesota Land Trust Executive Director, Kris Larson, is thrilled to see the results of this partnership: “We expect to announce a number of new easements in the coming months that will be a significant win for conservation in the Central Lakes Area.”

2012 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Tom Landwehr, John Lindgren

Minnesota DNR Commissioner, Tom Landwehr, and Fisheries Specialist, John Lindgren received the 2012 Partner of the Year Award on behalf of Minnesota DNR for their long-term commitment to securing the recovery of the St. Louis River Estuary after decades of industrialization, pollution and degradation.

Tributaries like the St. Louis River are essential for the survival of fish in the Lake Superior who need healthy tributaries for spawning and other ecological functions. The 12,000-acre freshwater estuary where the St. Louis River enters Lake Superior is one of the more important natural systems in all the Great Lakes. Minnesota Land Trust has been partnering with the Minnesota DNR to manage restoration efforts at the Radio Tower Bay site in the estuary since last year.

2011 Belwin Conservancy

2010 City of Red Wing

Other Minnesota Land Trust Awards

The John Peck Volunteer of the Year Award

The Landowner of the Year Award

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