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Woods in the works: Newest state forest undergoing development in Cass County

A white-tailed doe keeps watch while its fawn snacks on grass Thursday in the Centennial State Forest, located near Longville. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
Joel Lemberg, Backus Area Forest Supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, eyes a congress of ravens flying above Centennial State Forest on Thursday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
A white moth perches on leaf in Centennial State Forest on Thursday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
A red columbine grows in Centennial State Forest. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

CASS COUNTY—Down winding roads and through thickets of trees, the Centennial State Forest rests peacefully in Cass County as the newest state forest in Minnesota.

The 3,394-acre land is home to timber production, wildlife habitats and recreational activities. Animals such as white-tailed deer, black bears and timber wolves all reside within the area, while red-shouldered hawks, bald eagles and a variety of warblers circle the skies above. And outdoorsmen can find themselves just as lost in the lure of the lush.

"I've never experienced a new state forest, so this is kinda new to me," said Joel Lemberg, Backus Area Forest Supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It's still so in its infancy."

The land, just south of Lake Twentysix nearest Longville, was owned by the Potlatch Corporation from 1973 until late 2012, when the Minnesota Nature Conservancy purchased and donated it to the DNR. And, in 2016, Centennial State Forest was designated by the Minnesota Legislature.

"What we've basically done is, once we acquired the land, we focused on mapping it all, inventorying all the forest stands," said Lemberg. "We mapped all the frequently used trails... The next step in this is the (off-highway vehicle) planning and the road classification, which we're going through right now."

On June 26, the DNR will hold a public meeting for its proposed recreational opportunities in Centennial State Forest, including a proposal to list the state forest as a "limited" forest for OHVs. In a limited classification, all forest roads are open to OHVs while forest trails are closed to motor vehicles unless posted open. The meeting will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Walker Community Center Rotary Room in Walker.

"I'm currently working with Parks and Trails on developing that OHV plan and designating the forest roads and minimum maintenance forest roads in this area," said Lemberg. "The next step after that is gonna be getting the signage up and everything else, and then from there we'll look into timber management on the property."

Although Centennial State Forest itself is new, the history behind it is not.

Even before Potlatch owned the land, its trails were trekked by many. The forest saw a variety of visitors, from lumberjacks in the 1800s to German prisoners of war during World War II, who were housed near camps in Remer and likely assigned forestry work of planting several acres of trees in the 1940s.

Held in the wildlife, the waters of Camp Two Lake onsite and the terrain filled with aspen, red pine and an abundance of other trees, the land itself is filled with history. Centennial State Forest, meanwhile, has just begun to write its own.

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, he is currently studying Creative and Professional Writing at Bemidji State. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.

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