DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Good news for the people, fish, and wildlife of White Earth Lake: Thanks to one’s family’s generosity, over 380 acres of undeveloped woodland and lakeshore will be preserved in an aquatic management area.

The land sale to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources involved nine different parcels in three different locations on the lake, said Mandy Erickson, policy and planning coordinator with the DNR’s Division of Fish & Wildlife in Detroit Lakes.

“There are four separate areas now, including the one we already had,” she said. “It’s all known as the White Earth Aquatic Management Area.”

The 380 acres had all been in the hands of one family since the 1920s or 1930s, and the family sold the land, valued at about $2 million, to the DNR for about $1 million, Erickson said. The DNR bought the land using state Reinvest In Minnesota funds.

The family prefers to remain anonymous, she said, and did not respond to an interview request extended to them through Erickson.

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A 2008 Becker County plat map shows all 380 acres owned by Philip Renaldo.

The new aquatic management area land includes 170 acres between White Earth and Fish Hook lake to the west, with substantial shoreland on both lakes.

It also includes about 81 acres between White Earth Lake and Bass Lake to the south, with shoreland property on both lakes. There is another 200 acres on the southeast side of the lake.

According to that plat book, the family still owns substantial acreage between White Earth Lake and Bass Lake.

A look at some of the new property in the White Earth Lake Aquatic Management Area. (Submitted DNR photo, March 2021)
A look at some of the new property in the White Earth Lake Aquatic Management Area. (Submitted DNR photo, March 2021)

The entire process, from when the family first approached the DNR with the idea to finalization of the deal earlier this month, has taken over three years, Erickson said.

“If you’re looking to flip property and make a quick buck, the aquatic management area process is not for you,” she joked.

Erickson said the family showed they were willing to “put their money where their mouth is, so to speak,” to make sure the property remains pristine. “They did not want to see it developed,” she added.

The White Earth Aquatic Management Area is open to hunting, fishing and non-motorized recreation, but “no camping, no permanent deer stands, no removal of vegetation (to make trails)” said Erickson.

In general, aquatic management areas “are used a lot for hunting, shore fishing, walking, relaxing, taking photos, all kinds of things,” she said.

Undeveloped areas can be rare on popular lakes, and aquatic management areas give boaters a place to go for picnics, sunbathing or shore fishing, she said.

The newly-acquired property on White Earth Lake includes “a small island, a cool sandbar and an old road that goes out to the island,” Erickson said. “It is a public shoreline that people can pull their boats up to and have picnics.”

The biggest issue the state has with its aquatic management areas is neighbors treating the property as if it were their own, she said.

“We’ve had some where people have built houses, driveways, docks, gardens,” she said. People dump yard waste, store boat lifts, make trails and set up their campers on the state-owned land.

That kind of trespassing keeps the DNR enforcement people busy, she said. The general rule is “if you wouldn’t do it to your neighbor’s property, you can’t do it on an aquatic management area,” she said.

The Becker County Board gave its blessing earlier this month to the land acquisition on White Earth Lake. The county is expected to at least break even on the property tax loss, thanks to state compensation in the form of payment in lieu of taxes.

Once the new property has undergone an ecological survey, it will be posted online and will show up on the compass map on the DNR website. “It’s a great place to go find aquatic management areas,” she said.

In all, there are more than 120 aquatic management area parcels on about 50 lakes in the Detroit Lakes region, which includes 151 fishing lakes and 1,500 miles of rivers and streams in Becker, Clay, Mahnomen, Norman, Polk and Red Lake counties, Erickson said.