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Colfax school board contemplates selling 80-acre Otter Creek school forest

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Should the Colfax Board of Education sell the 80-acre parcel of school forest in the Town of Otter Creek?

The idea of selling the 80-acre school forest first came up three or four years ago when the school district was looking at purchasing additional land, said Todd Kragness, president of the Board of Education, at the August 15 meeting.

Board of Education members had asked at the July meeting to have the Otter Creek school forest put on the agenda for the August meeting.

The Colfax school district purchased 27.5 acres in 2015, the former Earnhart property, for $95,000. The property is directly east of the football and baseball fields and extends to the Red Cedar River with a small amount of property across the river.

Bill Yingst, district administrator, said he had spoken with local realtor Krag Blomberg about the value of the Otter Creek land and had learned that it would be valued around $2,000 per acre.

The school district property in Otter Creek was purchased in 1950.

Mark Mosey, Colfax High School biology teacher, also attended the August 15 meeting to talk about the school forest.

Mosey uses the property as an outdoor classroom for biology students.

Part of the value of the 80-acre school forest in Otter Creek is the value of the timber, Mosey said.

The property contains red pine that are close to mature, he said, adding that if the school board wanted to know more about the value of the timber, Mosey would talk to the Department of Natural Resources forester with whom he has been working for the past 20 years.

Another thinning of the trees will be taking place in the near future, Mosey noted.

“There are some beautiful trees out there,” he said, adding that the red pine in the Otter Creek school forest would be considered premier veneer saw logs and not pulp wood.

When the school forest is ready to be thinned, Mosey said he and his students work with DNR Forester Rob Strand to help the students learn how to choose and mark timber for thinning.

Kragness noted that much of the school forest’s value seemed to be in the timber.

Perhaps the amount of timber on the property would raise the land’s value to more than $2,000 an acre, said Ken Bjork, school board member.

On the other hand, Kragness said, someone recently pointed out to him that “we are not making any more land.”

The school district does not pay any property taxes on the school forest, so “it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Jodi Kiekhafer, school board member.

Educational value

The school district also owns another school forest property of about 25 acres on county Highway W.

Since the school district owns other property, what is the particular educational value of the parcel in Otter Creek? Bjork wondered.

The opportunity to mark timber for thinning could help some students develop an interest in pursuing a career in forestry, Mosey said.

Yingst wondered if Mosey has had an opportunity to walk around the recently-purchased 27.5 acres.

Mosey said he had walked the property last spring and that it has potential for also being used as an outdoor classroom.

“I would love to get going on it this year. It is ideal, a really nice spot,” he said.

Bjork said he was approaching the issue from a “farmer’s perspective” and that the Otter Creek parcel should “pay for itself” through its educational value or some other use.

The 80-acre parcel is making money for the school district every few years from timber sales, but selling it would put the land back on the tax roll, he said.

Feedback

Bjork said he was not yet ready to contract with a realtor to sell the property but that the school board would have to eventually come to a decision.

“Do we keep it for the timber, or do we put it back on the tax rolls?” Bjork asked.

Kragness wondered if there was a formal plan for managing the 80-acre parcel and whether there were plans to plant more trees after the existing trees have been cut down.

Bjork pointed out that the Colfax Messenger reporter was taking quite a lot of notes on the discussion and said he hoped a story in the newspaper would inspire district residents to let school members know what they think about the idea of selling the Otter Creek property.

Kragness said he was not prepared for the school board to take any action on selling the 80-acre property at the August 15 meeting, but rather, he hoped Board of Education members would give the idea more thought.

“We are in the business to educate students, not be real estate moguls … I want to do the right thing — whatever that is,” Bjork said.