Couple's bid boosts schools, but irks trail advocates.

The controversial sale of a parcel of land along Lake Superior’s North Shore has netted $1.2 million for the state’s school trust fund.

An Eden Prairie couple outbid the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in a public auction Wednesday for the 65-acre parcel, located about 10 miles north of Silver Bay.

Buyer Robert Schachter said he and his wife, Karen Rylander, have no plans to develop the property.

“The person who showed us the property thought it should be left untouched,” Schachter said. “I have no plans to develop it, and I’m not in real estate.”

Schachter said his wife, who is currently out of the country, was behind the purchase and he did not want to speak for her in regard to the parcel’s future.

Rylander’s name appears as a donor in literature for various conservation organizations throughout the state, including Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, Birch Island Woods Conservation Area in Eden Prairie, the Minnesota Zoo and Como Park Zoo, but it is unclear if the purchase is related to any conservation project.

The parcel went for nearly $400,000 more than the starting bid, which was set at $809,800.

“Its highest and best use was real estate,” said Aaron Vande Linde, the Department of Natural Resources’ school trust lands administrator. “This was a good time to sell. As proved by yesterday’s sale, we got 1½ times the value of it.”

The parcel includes about 1,675 feet of shoreline and has potential for development, according to a DNR sale description. With no aggregate resources and little timber cover, the DNR did not have any use for the parcel, Vande Linde said.

The sale has been controversial since it was first announced. Trail supporters had hoped to see a connection of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail built on the property, and others have lamented the potential loss of access to the shore due to private ownership.

Wolf Ridge, a nonprofit environmental learning center in Finland, Minn., was simply outbid at the auction, Executive Director Peter Smerud said.

“We put a limit on how much we could spend,” he said. “It was just higher than we could go.”

Given Wolf Ridge’s location just a few miles away, the parcel would have made an ideal location for the center to integrate Lake Superior programs into its curriculum, Smerud said.

“We were looking at the land as a phenomenal resource to enhance education about Lake Superior,” he said. “Lake Superior is a rare treasure, and we need to make sure we teach children about it and that they have a level of understanding.”

Smerud said he hopes the parcel will be left mostly untouched. In the future, Wolf Ridge will continue to search for land along the North Shore, he said.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that other lakefront parcels will hit the auction block. The DNR will continue to identify trust land parcels for sale, Vande Linde said.

The $1.2 million raised from the sale — and the more than $750,000 raised from nine other land sales in St. Louis, Cook and Itasca counties this week — will be invested as principal in a statewide trust fund for schools.

Last year, interest and dividends on the fund, which is worth about $930 million, generated $26 million for schools throughout the state, Vande Linde said, and modest land sales must continue to keep up revenues.

“We have to weigh all factors on parcels,” he said. “We don’t just weigh recreational values we want to protect. We want to offer land with a high likelihood of selling to maximize the trust. It’s a tough decision.”

Another set of parcels is set to be auctioned in October, but the sale is not expected to include any additional Lake Superior shore properties.
The DNR previously had been unable to sell lakeshore trust lands without prior approval of the Minnesota Legislature. However, in an effort to increase funds available for schools, the Legislature eliminated that requirement last year.