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North Shore land is sold, but controversy remains

A parcel of land along Lake Superior's North Shore was sold last week, but the controversy surrounding the sale is showing no signs of slowing down.

An Eden Prairie couple outbid the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in a public auction held last Wednesday for the 65-acre parcel, about 10 miles north of Silver Bay. The sale netted $1.2 million for the state's school trust fund.

Other than saying they have no plans to develop the property, buyers Robert Schachter and Karen Rylander have remained tight-lipped about the future of the land.

"The person who showed us the property thought it should be left untouched," Schachter told the News-Chronicle. "I have no plans to develop it and I'm not in real estate."

Schachter said his wife was behind the purchase and he did not want to speak for her in regard to the future of the parcel. Rylander has not returned calls seeking comment.

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 DNR's 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 very little timber cover, the DNR did not have any use for the parcel, Vande Linde said.

The sale of the parcel 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, 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.