Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche

Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche (left) speaks to Natural Resource Advisory Committee members on Sept. 13 about his decision to resign his position effective Oct. 1.  LLCC manager Dave McMillan (center) hands out cupcakes to members, who gave Courtemanche a standing ovation and thanked him for his service to the county.

Assistant County Land Commissioner Dennis Thompson told the Natural Resources Advisory Committee members Sept. 13 that because the annual August timber auction is typically sealed bid, the Aug. 11 sealed-bid auction was not a change from normal. The auction resulted in every tract being bid up, Thompson said.

“The lowest bid up was 3% and the highest was 52%,” said Thompson. The average bid-up percent was 72%; the average prices for aspen pulp and bolts, red oak bolts and red pine are tracked. “Prices fluctuate from auction to auction,” he said. “But the price has been $34-35 on average, so to see it jump to $39, was interesting. It may be a reflection of the timber markets, or some other factor.”

Within a week of the sale, some loggers were already moving into the sales they had just bought.

“The hot, dry summer was a motivator for loggers to get into the woods, and they were apparently willing to bid more to get access to timber,” added County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche.

CULVERT INVENTORY PROJECT

Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Steve Hughes spoke about the county’s culvert inventory.

“The hope is that with culverts installed, water will continue to flow the way it would have prior to having the culverts installed, but sometimes they get damaged or are installed incorrectly,” Hughes said. “We have spent about two years doing an inventory of the watershed as part of the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy planning process. With some funds that became available, we decided to do an inventory of the culverts in the Minnewawa watershed.”

Hughes explained that incorrectly placed culverts can prevent fish spawning and create all kinds of unintended consequences.

Randy Quale, county surveyor, helped the SWCD understand what was needed to get very accurate GPS coordinates of the top and bottom of each culvert, as well as the diameter of the culvert. Sam Seybold started in that watershed and moved on to complete the inventory of culverts in Shamrock, Workman and McGregor townships.

In 2021 the project was funded to the tune of $15,000. The accuracy of the data is 3/100 of a foot both horizontally and vertically. The SWCD team hopes to create a map for every stretch of road for every township and make the data available to the townships for their own use.

LLCC UPDATE

A 10-inch computerized telescope was donated by Al Ferber to LLCC through the Long Lake Foundation, and it will be an integral part of the curriculum at LLCC in the future.

“The not-so-good news is that COVID-19 continues to be a concern for the administrations of some of the school districts,” said Dave McMillan. “Four or five school districts notified the center that they would be rescheduling the classes they had booked for this winter.”  

In the interim, McMillan and education director Beth Haasken are pivoting to get into fundraising mode until things turn around with the school districts. “We will persevere and do what we can,” McMillan said. “LLCC plans to reach out to home-schooling groups and charter schools in the interim, to try to fill out the gaps in the calendar.”

“A number of positive changes have been made at LLCC,” said Long Lake Foundation chair Bob Marcum. “If the Foundation can’t step up and provide a big chunk of the funding needed to operate the center, then we need to up our game.”

Marcum said he was inspired by the enthusiasm of the new LLCC staff.

“Even supporters who are not financially placed to make cash donations to the center can help,” said McMillan. He explained that the center needs volunteers who can support LLCC with their time and talent as well as those who can make financial gifts.

PARKS AND TRAILS

Aitkin County Parks and Trails supervisor Chris Johnson said this has been the best summer he could recall, for staffing. He has a great staff and the county campgrounds are all looking good due to its hard work.  The year-to-date total for campsite rentals is $34,579; much higher than recent years.

“There has been a big increase of use of ATV trails, and along with that comes damage that we have to address to maintain a first-class ATV system,” said Thompson. Thompson handed out a summary Parks and Trails report that Johnson had prepared.

There was a grand opening ride of the Emily-Blind Lake Trail connector on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and an October ATV ride is scheduled. Instead of meeting in the evening, for its October meeting, the NRAC will meet during the day to ride the trail and have a picnic lunch.

Thompson announced that Oct. 1 would be Rich Courtemanche’s last day as county land commissioner.

“How do you say good-bye to your dream job?” said Courtemanche as NRAC members gave him a standing ovation. “The land commissioner job is so all-encompassing that I could not just take a leave of absence and still do what needed to be done as an owner at Block North.”

The next NRAC meeting at LLCC will be Monday. Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the dining hall at Long Lake Conservation Center.

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