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County will use federal funds to buy 53 wooded acres along St. Croix River

With just County Board approval needed, St. Croix County is set to buy 53.29 acres of undeveloped land along the St. Croix River in the town of St. Joseph.

The land, which is being purchased from retired county judge C.A. Richards and his wife Jeanette, has an “undisturbed, very natural shoreline, beach access, 2,000 feet of bluffline and 1,300 feet of shoreline, said Community Development Director Ellen Denzer.

The purchase was approved by the Administration Committee July 15 and will be on the County Board’s Aug. 4 agenda.

The $746,000 cost will be taken from $2 million in federal funds allocated to the county to mitigate the impact the new interstate bridge will have on the Wisconsin bluff. The property is listed on tax roles as G6-undeveloped and has an assessed value of $543,300.

Denzer said this type of land, in fact this property in particular, were parcels the Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of transportation and the county had in mind to preserve and protect when they set up the fund.

“(It is) just a gorgeous site. It’s stunning,” said Denzer. “For those of us who have been out there and walked it, it’s pretty amazing.”

She said she identified just a half a dozen undeveloped parcels of over 25 acres left along the river.

“This is one of the few remaining parcels left on the St. Croix River,” said Denzer, adding, “So there aren’t very many of them left to preserve, and this is one of them, and it’s a really beautiful and unique site.”

She said it offers scenic views both from the river and from land.

There is a lot of ongoing erosion on the property, said Denzer, and although some areas have been stabilized, severe erosion exists in over six ravines, there is bluffline damage and the potential for future washouts, and the sandy loam soils are excessively erodible and underlain by sand and gravel with 12 percent to 35 percent slopes.

Denzer said this purchase offers an opportunity for soil conservation and erosion control.

The 53 acres will be open to the public, but use would be limited to natural, low-impact recreation such as walking and hiking. At some point, the county might add picnic tables, restrooms and scenic overlooks, said Denzer.

“Timing is everything,” said Denzer. She said Richards is 79 and has a serious health issue.

“He feels it’s time, time to move on,” said Denzer, saying Richards wants to sell before the end of the year and has another offer but wants the county to have the land.

“The property has been almost sold numerous times. Several times these options have fallen through, bad timing, bad luck, unable to develop it into residential housing,” said Denzer, concluding this is a good price and the timing is right.

“I think this is a rare and unique opportunity to preserve it both for the passive parkland and also the beach area,” agreed Supervisor Jill Berke, town of Troy, adding that she believes the county’s parks division and Community Development Department will be good stewards of the property.

After deducting the cost of this purchase and the amount paid earlier this month for 6.8 acres to expand the St. Croix River Crossing bike trailhead, the county will have $1,065,848 left in mitigation funds, reported Denzer.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.