When Richard Aasness’ parents moved to Grow Township in 1956, most of the roads were surfaced with dirt, including 161st Avenue that their half-mile dirt driveway accessed. Hanson Boulevard was nowhere near them.
As time passed, 161st Avenue and other roads were paved. Hanson Boulevard was extended north of 161st Avenue, which brought more development and new power lines. Grow Township became the city of Andover in 1974.
In more recent years, neighboring property owners started selling property to housing developers.
Richard and Donna, who married in 2000, do not want Andover to be devoid of woods to walk through and open prairies. Owning 74.23 acres of land they do not farm was also becoming expensive in this growing community. Richard owns a woodworking business.
This is why they closed on a deal with the city of Andover Jan. 10 to sell 25.73 acres for $284,650 through the community’s open space land preservation program that voters approved in 2006 through a $2 million referendum. The site is located north of 161st Avenue and east of Hanson Boulevard.
Donna said as development continues to encroach on animals’ homes, it is important to keep pockets of natural habitats for them to live in. As they walked through the property with other guests on an evening last week, a red-tail hawk flew overhead at one point and deer tracks were spotted. Donna and Richard have also seen turkey, fox, coyotes and one black bear over the years.
“It may seem like a little spot, but to wildlife it’s a big deal,” Donna said.
Just before sunset April 9, the seven citizens of the Andover Open Space Advisory Commission along with Community Development Director David Carlberg and Councilmember Julie Trude toured the Aasness property to start thinking ahead on needs to be done to make this property accessible to the public.
Carlberg said a small gravel parking lot could be developed this year off Hanson Boulevard. From here, visitors could walk through 46.33 acres of open space because the former Aasness property is next to the 20.6-acre North Woods Preserve that the city purchased in September 2010 from Larry and Karen Emmerich.
Carlberg said the city will maintain natural trails throughout the 46-acre North Woods Preserve. A Boy Scout is looking to install information kiosks throughout this property for an Eagle Scout project. It is easy to wander onto private land, so clearly marking property boundaries will be key.
Negotiations continue with Emmerich on determining the location of a permanent southern access to this open space, Carlberg said. You can access this property from the south today, but must park in a residential neighborhood. Emmerich is planning to further develop the White Pines Wilderness neighborhood he started several years ago.
Richard already took care of clearing some dead trees last fall to make better paths through the property when he knew he was selling the property to the city. Some had died of oak wilt. There are heavily forested areas of the property and a pine tree standing near a prairie in one spot, but all trees on this property grew naturally, he said.
There was always an open prairie on the east side of the property, Richard said. He recalled that corn was once harvested in some of this area.
Carlberg said preliminary results of a recently completed community survey shows that only half of Andover residents are aware of the city’s open space preservation program and that they can access these properties. Some may view open space as another park, but this is not true, he said. Andover’s open space cannot have playgrounds, ball fields, paved trails or campgrounds.
“It shows we need to do a better job of educating the public where the open space is and what it is,” Carlberg said.
The city’s website has driving directions and maps of North Woods Preserve and the 38-acre Martin’s Meadows along the Rum River.
Carlberg and the Open Space Advisory Commission also continue to reach out to property owners who may be willing to sell.
Carlberg said when the city discovered last year that it had the sewer capacity to support approximately 155 new homes in an area north of 161st Avenue and east of Hanson Boulevard, Richard and Donna Aasness and neighboring property owners were alerted to this new information.
This past October, the council voted to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to place two parcels totaling 83 acres in the Municipal Urban Service Area, which means future developments can be serviced by city sewer and water. The land use was also amended to allow density similar to the White Pine Wilderness and Country Oaks West housing developments.
Richard is happy to know that Andover residents will forever get to wander through 46 acres of open space in this area.
“I didn’t ever want to see it developed,” Richard said.
The open space commissioners, Carlberg and Trude met Richard and Donna Aasness at the western edge of the property off Hanson Boulevard. As they walked into the forest, open space commissioner Aaron Jarson marveled at how quickly the road noise diminished.
Jarson moved to Andover just in time to vote yes for the open space referendum in 2006. He hated to see his old Coon Rapids neighborhood lose so much natural beauty, so when there was an opening in the open space commission three years ago, he joined to be able to play a part in preserving some of Andover’s land.
Jim Olson voted against the open space referendum in 2006. He joined the open space commission, he said, to make sure the city was not wasting money on bad properties. The Andover resident of 27 years has been extremely pleased with how the program has turned out, starting with the purchase of the property along the Rum River, he said, and is happy to see another area that won’t be cleared of trees to make way for more homes.
After touring the property, the commission headed back to city hall to discuss other properties the city could purchase with the $495,000 remaining in the open space account.
“If the city doesn’t do it, no one will,” Olson said. “You can be idealistic, but you have to be realistic.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]