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Forest Service and Cook County complete land exchange

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The United States Forest Service on Superior National Forest and Cook County completed a long-anticipated land exchange Sept. 27 at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais – an initiative that began in the 1990s and involves land within and outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Cook County and the Superior National Forest have been working together for nearly two decades to develop the proposal and complete all of the required steps to achieve this land exchange. The land exchange has its roots in the establishment of the popular wilderness area. When the BWCAW was established, the uses and values of county land located within the wilderness area were affected due to the laws and regulations applying to wilderness management, including access to and use of those county lands.

The parcels the county now owns through the exchange include parcels under two fire halls, parcels with local recreational trails running across them and parcels that may be appropriate for gravel pits and communications facilities. The existing Gitchi Gami State Trail corridor now runs across a new county parcel and would be perpetuated by the county through an agreement with the state.
 
“For years, federally-owned parcels of land have been scattered throughout the county, within its boundaries, but restricted from use,” said Molly Hicken, Cook County attorney. “The land exchange opens up these parcels for land uses that benefit the county’s population, allowing county leadership to include this land in its planning for the county’s future. We are pleased to be able to complete this long-awaited exchange with the Forest Service, and Cook County extends thanks to all involved.”

For the county, the newly obtained lands could serve as potential gravel pits to assist with efforts and management on local roadways, according to several county employees WTIP interviewed for this story. In addition, five communication towers are located on land involved with the exchange. 

The land exchange furthers land management objectives identified in the Superior National Forest plan in that it contributes to land consolidation in the BWCAW, reduces agency administration of complex special use permits, results in a net wetland acreage gain of approximately 137 acres to the federal estate.

“I would like to thank Cook County for its leadership and hard work in this collaborative effort to complete the exchange,” said Connie Cummins, Superior National Forest supervisor. “Ultimately, the exchange will provide new opportunities for sustainable development in Cook County as well as further management objectives on the Superior National Forest.”