Fourth-generation landowner protects wildlife corridor in Anoka County

In 1866, brothers Jacob and John Emmans left Ohio for the great wilderness of Minnesota, receiving land grants near present-day St. Francis in Anoka County with the hope of starting a Quaker community.

Descendants of the Emmans family have chosen to protect their northern Anoka County area farm through conservation easements with the Minnesota Land Trust.

Descendants of the Emmans family have chosen to protect their northern Anoka County area farm through conservation easements with the Minnesota Land Trust.Photo submitted

That community never came to be, but the brothers farmed the land, acquired hundreds of additional acres, raised families and carved out a life at a time when bison and elk still roamed through these parts. The bison and the elk are long gone, as is the old stagecoach trail that passed through the property. Over the decades, most of the original Jacob Emmans farm land remains, a little more than 260 acres.

Until recently, the land was owned by Marian Anderson, a descendant of Jacob Emmans, and Gordon Anderson, Marian’s husband. They acquired the land from relatives, but relocated to Robbinsdale after World War II, where they raised a family of their own. Several years ago, Marian and Gordon approached the Minnesota Land Trust about protecting some of their remaining 260 acres from encroaching development. Together with their son, John, and his wife Barb, they donated a conservation easement to the Land Trust in 2005, protecting 92 acres.

Marian and Gordon have since passed away, but John and Barb Anderson have continued their parent’s desire to protect more of the Emmans farm. Last week, they protected an additional 80 acres with the Minnesota Land Trust thanks to funding from Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. “We are thrilled to protect more of the land that had meant so much to our parents,” says John.

Fortunately, much of this land has remained relatively undisturbed and today is a sanctuary for a great variety of wildlife in this urbanizing area of Anoka County. In fact, these 260 acres constitute one of the larger undeveloped parcels in northern Anoka County. The property’s grasslands and wetlands are key habitats for species in greatest conservation need according to Minnesota’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. These key habitats support such species as Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow, the red-headed woodpecker and the smooth green snake.

“It is unique to find this quality of habitat so close to the metro area,” says Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust. “This is not only a great legacy for the landowners; it is also very wise — and cost effective — investment by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund with tremendous benefits for wildlife and water quality.”

For John and Barb, protecting more of the land is a fitting tribute to his’s parents and the land itself. “While mom didn’t grow up on the farm, she moved back onto it during World War II when dad was piloting B-29s in the Pacific,” he said.

Indeed, in 1945 the Minneapolis Star featured the 27-year-old Marian in a story about local war brides. There was Marian, operating a tractor, surrounded by chickens and doing her best to revive the 80-year-old farm. “She was determined to make a go of it and she did,” John said.

By the late 1950s the Emmans farm was slated to become a military airfield, a Cold War response by the federal government. In the end, the airstrip plan was scuttled and the farm remained. Today, there is a neat row of homes to the west as many farms were converted to subdivisions. Thanks to the Andersons, Jacob and Margaret Emmans’ original homestead will live on as an important wildlife corridor in Anoka County.

Funding for the project was made available through the Metro Conservation Corridors, a project funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRT) as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Natural Resources (LCCMR) and approved by the Legislature. The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources.

The goal of the Metro Conservation Corridors project is to re-establish a network of corridors that connect core units of high-quality habitat throughout the greater metropolitan area for the purpose of sustaining wildlife populations. Within this program, the Minnesota Land Trust’s activities are concentrated on protecting critical habitat through the use of conservation easements.

The Minnesota Land Trust is a membership-based non-profit organization. Its mission is to permanently protect Minnesota’s natural and scenic heritage through public and private partnerships. The organization is funded by individual members and through grants from a variety of private and public sources and operates statewide through regional offices in Duluth, Ely and St. Paul. The organization has completed 439 conservation projects permanently protecting more than 39,000 acres of natural and scenic land and over 850,000 feet of fragile shoreline statewide. More information can be found online at www.mnland.org.

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