A Conservation Ethic Runs in the Family

Doug Schaffer remembers moving from Roseville to Demark Township in 1969 when he was 15 years old. It was a big change for a city kid. His parents, Kenneth and Margery, purchased 120 acres of farmland along the St. Croix River south of Afton State Park in an area dominated by rolling hills, farms, and woods. During the summers, Doug and his twin brother Dave liked to hike down through the woods and along the railroad tracks to the Kinnickinnic Resort, which was on the river. There, they would rent fishing boats and sell gas to tourists and local people that picnicked and camped on the St. Croix.

The St. Croix River south of Afton is blanketed by rolling hills with woods on both shores.

Kenneth and Margery Schaffer loved the open space surrounding their farm and, as they grew older, began discussing ways to protect the land from future development. After Kenneth passed away in 1991, Margery sat down with Doug, Dave and their other two siblings Chester and Linda and suggested putting a portion of the land into an easement with the Minnesota Land Trust. The children agreed, and the Schaffer Family was able to execute an easement on 60 acres of their land in 1999, shortly before Margery passed away. Today, Doug, Chester and Linda still live on land that was part of the original Schaffer Family Farm and Dave lives nearby in Inver Grove Heights.

Though the Schaffer Family’s land easement prohibits them from subdividing or developing their land, they are still allowed to farm a portion of it and they have been renting to a local farmer for several years. Last year, Doug contacted the Washington Conservation District to ask for advice on controlling three large gullies that had formed in the woods at the end of the field where water from the cropland drains down to the St. Croix River. The Conservation District helped to secure funding from the South Washington Watershed District and a Minnesota Clean Water Fund grant to stabilize the gullies and reduce runoff pollution to the river. The project included excavating three large basins to collect runoff at the edges of the field and installing rate control structures to allow the water to drain out more slowly, without eroding the bluff.  Altogether, these three practices will keep 143 pounds of phosphorus out of the river each year, which is equivalent to 71,500 pounds of algae. In recognition of their land protection and pollution prevention efforts, the Washington Conservation District has chosen the Schaffer Family Partnership as its Outstanding Conservationist for 2017.

To prevent field runoff from creating gullies in the river bluff, the Conservation District installed three sediment basins on the Schaffer property. A berm with two pipes holds the water back temporarily, so that it flows out more slowly. This also allows time for sediment in the water to settle out so that the runoff to the river is cleaner.

Land conservation easements offer property owners a mechanism to help transfer land to their children and grandchildren and protect it from future development. A conservation easement is a set of restrictions a landowner voluntarily places on his or her property in order to preserve its conservation values. This document is filed with the county and applies to all future landowners, permanently protecting the property. An easement is considered a charitable contribution, which a landowner may claim as a federal income tax deduction. A gift of a conservation easement may also reduce estate taxes. Since 1993, Minnesota Land Trust has worked with landowners and local communities to protect more than 45,000 acres and over 1 million feet of shoreline on lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands through conservation easements. Learn more at www.mnland.org.

The Washington Conservation District works with landowners across Washington County to reduce erosion and runoff pollution and improve habitat through on-the-ground projects. The Conservation District currently has special funding available to help landowners near the St. Croix River reduce runoff pollution through practices such as bluff restoration, erosion control, raingardens, sediment basins, ravine repair, and grassed waterways in Carnelian-Marine St. Croix and Middle St. Croix watersheds. In addition, there is funding throughout the county to enhance existing agricultural practices such as sediment basins, buffers, and grassed waterways, so that they capture soluble phosphorus. Learn more at www.mnwcd.org.