The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Wednesday was to discuss a possible agreement between the state and the North Lakeland Discovery Center, Inc. for a land exchange that would allow the center to own the property it currently leases from the state.
However, that proposal is now on hold.
The proposal was pulled from the board’s meeting agenda Wednesday morning at the request of the Discovery Center, according to NRB liaison Laurie Ross.
Sarah Johnson, Discovery Center executive director, said the group requested the item be removed from the agenda so they could slow the process.
“The process was moving a little too quickly,” Johnson said. “We decided to stop the process because we were made aware of some unanswered questions about how this deal could impact our 501 C3 status. Until we get answers to those questions we don’t want to impact our public charity status.”
The deal, if it does gain final approval, calls for the DNR to grant ownership of the 62.74-acre Discovery Center site in Vilas County in exchange for the DNR receiving approximately 612 acres of forest land the center is to be receiving from Plum Lake Timberlands.
The property the DNR is proposed to receive as part of the deal is about three miles to the northeast of the Discovery Center property and within the state forest boundary. The land is a mix of aspen, pine, spruce and various hardwoods and the DNR would manage it for production forestry and public outdoor recreation.
The land would become part of the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest. State ownership of the large tract of land would allow natural resource management, provide public recreation and hunting and would allow forestry management. State forest staff based in Woodruff and Trout Lake would manage the newly-acquired tract.
The proposed agreement includes deed reservations in favor of the state to limit the use of the Discovery Center property to the current mission of environmental education, that the public have access to the land and that the title revert back to the DNR if these conditions are not met.
According to DNR and Discovery Center officials, the center wants to have permanent ownership of the land so it can make improvements and other long-term commitments.
The Discovery Center has operated the environmental education facility at the current site in the town of Manitowish Waters since 1996 under a lease agreement with the state.
The property is located between a public road and the east shore of Statehouse Lake and includes approximately 2,000 square feet of shoreline on the 25-acre lake. The site has 18 older buildings and hosts many youth and adult classes and events.
Established by the Conservation Department in 1963, the facility was one of five camps for the Youth Conservation Corps. Funding cuts in 1992 forced the department to close all Youth Conservation Corps camps. After a few years of dormancy, the department leased the site to the Discovery Center.
Officials say the exchange is considered of equal value with no cash to be exchanged between the DNR and the Discovery Center. They say the pluses to the deal include the fact the Discovery Center would continue at its location and the state forest would acquire a significant block of forested land with no cash outlay. The center could also make commitments for long range changes and plans at the site if they owned the property instead of leasing it.
The Northern Highland American Legion State Forest includes more than 232,000 acres in Vilas, Oneida and Iron counties.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at email@example.com.