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Cook's legacy will live on through conservation easement

Just days before he passed away, Phil Cook and his wife Elsie completed arrangements for a conservation easement, a long-lasting legacy that caps a life of environmental advocacy. One hundred and forty acres of land in Lake County - including 2,000 feet of river shoreline - will be protected for generations to come, thanks to the easement.

The Minnesota Land Trust announced that the Cooks had signed an easement that will prevent development and division of the property as well as protecting its natural resources, including the forests, wetlands and streams.

"The Arrowhead is such a special part of Minnesota that we'd really like to see it kind of stay the same," said Walter Abramson, director of development and communications for the Minnesota Land Trust.

Phil Cook, who passed away on Nov. 13, spent much of his life as a research chemist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency His obituary noted that he was "a tireless advocate for the planet." The easement will keep the Cooks' land in its natural state, no matter who owns it in the future.

Abramson said conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to preserve land while allowing it to remain in private hands - especially important for an area like Lake County, where much of the land is already public.

"If you're going to be effective at conserving lands, you're going to have to have a tool that works well with private ownership," he said.

In addition, Abramson said conservation easements are much less expensive than purchasing land in an effort to protect it from development.

"They're very efficient. We're not buying land at full-market value. We're just talking about a portion of its value ... and most of the time, landowners have freely donated the conservation to us," he said.

The Minnesota Land Trust is a nonprofit organization started in 1993 and Abramson said most of its work involves helping landowners arrange for conservation easements.

They've played a part in 455 projects, protecting more than 42,000 acres. Each easement is unique, but the result is always in line with the Land Trust's mission to protect the natural and scenic heritage of the state through public and private partnerships.

The land the Cooks own is located ten miles north of Two Harbors and includes 2,000 feet of shoreline along the Knife River. It abuts Lake County forestland on three sides, so protecting it will keep an even larger tract of land intact.

"Protecting this property is significant because we're preserving shoreline very near the headwaters of the Knife River," said Fitz Fitzgerald, Minnesota Land Trust's regional conservation director in a statement. "It's a perfect opportunity to start protecting this entire watershed, which has been a priority of the DNR and other conservation partners."

Abramson said most landowners, including the Cooks, want to leave a legacy that lasts beyond them.

"We get a lot of comments from landowners ... they feel such a sense of relief that it's now been taken care of. We achieve so many of their life's values by protecting the land," he said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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