City seeks grant for Houlton Farm

by Joni Astrup
Associate Editor
The finishing touches are being put on an application for a grant to help finance the purchase of the Houlton Farm in Elk River.

The city is working with The Conservation Fund to secure funding to buy the farm and turn it into a nature-preserve-type park. The Conservation Fund is a national non-profit that helps government agencies and other non-profits acquire land.

The Houlton Farm boundary is shown in red.
The Houlton Farm boundary is shown in red.

Steve Hobbs, Minnesota project director for The Conservation Fund, said the grant amount being sought is around $1.9 to $2 million.

The City Council voted 5-0 on Monday to approve a resolution authorizing an application to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Parks Legacy Grant Program for funds to assist in the acquisition of the Houlton Farm.

Mayor John Dietz wondered what the odds are of getting the grant.

Hobbs said it’s difficult to say. The grant process is competitive, but the feedback he has received so far from the people who review the grant proposals has been very positive, he said.

“Certainly it is a unique opportunity,” Hobbs said. “There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere in this area so I think the folks that evaluate the proposals recognize that.”

The 335-acre farm is located west of downtown near the Orono Dam. It has frontage on both the Mississippi and Elk rivers.

The city envisions the farm as a passive recreation area. Possible amenities could include trails, a boat access to the river and viewing platforms overlooking the river and a vast expanse of restored prairie where crops are now grown.

The largest cottonwood tree recorded in Sherburne County is on the farm. It also is home to a barn that dates to the Civil War era.

In addition to the approximately $2 million grant being sought, Hobbs told the council that they are looking  at other funding sources to augment that.
If the deal goes through, no city match is anticipated.