The City of Anoka purchased this piece of property from the State of Minnesota through a Federal Housing and Urban Development Open Space Grant in 1968. A stipulation of the grant was that the land be used as public open space.
In the grant application, the City of Anoka declared the”sole purpose of the City of Anoka in acquiring such land is to perpetuate its use as Park and Recreational land.” While originally never dedicated as a park, the area has been under the jurisdiction of the city parks department and was listed in the 2000 comprehensive plan as the “Rum River Nature Area” (RRNA).
In 1991, after the HUD restrictions on Open Space were lifted, some city officials and staff members began discussing development opportunities for the property, dubbing it “North Pointe” (the “e” makes it much more classy).
Selling parcels for development had been viewed as an answer to increasing fiscal pressures. As sprawling urban development consumes open space in the northern Twin Cities metropolitan area, The Rum River Nature Area stands as the last large, undeveloped tract of land in Anoka. In contrast, other municipalities in the seven-county metro area are buying back land to preserve and repurpose as parkland and greenspace.
In the late ’90’s, the Anoka City Council donated eleven acres to the Anoka County Library Board. After the strategic placement of the new Rum River Library in 1999, this previously untouched natural area now includes access to the Library from County 116, and ample parking.
Over the years a number of other development ideas have been promoted by some city officials. Early suggestions included a county or regional park, but more recent schemes range from industrial, to a county fair grounds, to a championship golf course and multifamily housing. A study done by a city engineer in 2002 “assumes that approximately 120 acres could be developed into a mix of single family residential and office/commercial” use. This did not come to pass.
Recent History: 1994 – 2008
From 1994 until 2004, a citizens group known as Protect Our Parks (POP), worked with city officials to attempt to protect the Rum River Nature Area. Members worked within the local political scene to support and protect the Nature Area and prevent the development or sale of the property.
Protect Our Parks partnered with groups such as Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, League of Conservation Voters, local church and scout groups and student leaders at adjacent Anoka High School in an effort to educate the public about the future value and the imminent threat to this community treasure. The long term commitment of this group led to the ability to block moves toward development. Any solution to the question of permanent protection was still unresolved, and POP dissolved as an active organization.
In 2003, the Anoka City Council investigated the ability to place public land into perpetuity. They found that if they dedicated the area as a park, it would not bind future councils from changing the designation. The differences of opinion between interest groups (e.g. preserve vs. sell/develop) resulted in inaction relative to the 277 acres of “land north of the high school.”
In 2005, concerned Anoka citizens formed a new organization known as “Friends of the Rum River Nature Area“, with the purpose of restoring and permanently protecting the RRNA in collaboration with the City and related agencies. In August of 2005, members of the Steering Committee of the FRRNA presented information and a solution to the Anoka City Council that would allow Anoka citizens to maintain ownership of the RRNA and still protect the land and waters permanently.
During that presentation, information was shared about conservation easements, the Minnesota Land Trust, and other potential forms of assistance available to the City once a formal designation as “nature area” is completed. In January, 2006 a compromise solution was suggested to the City Council; the City, in turn, followed up by hiring a consultant to get input from interest groups, city agencies, and stakeholders, and to develop a comprehensive plan that would include the details of the conservation easement.
Finally, in 2007, the City Council adopted a resolution, transferring the rights to the land to the Anoka County Soil/Water Conservation District, which acts as the ‘easement-holder’, and overseeing the protection of the newly-named “Anoka Nature Preserve.” The City owns the land, but the conservation easement ensures that any changes or activity in the Preserve follow specific guidelines specified in the management plan developed jointly by the City Parks Dept. and the County Conservation District.
Plans in 2010 and beyond may include projects to remove invasive species (buckthorn, prickly ash, purple loosestrife, et al.).
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