Minnesota's newest township reflects on its beginnings

It wasn't that Clearwater County was doing a bad job, but residents around Long Lost Lake wanted to manage their own affairs. In 2005, they finally did. Long Lost Lake Township, located in southern Clearwater County about 25 miles from Bagley, wa...

These five men represent the officials of Long Lost Lake Township in southern Clearwater County. The township, created in 2005, was the most recent township to organize in the state of Minnesota. From left, Dick Toomey, treasurer; Marv Mortenson, clerk; Greg Scherzer, supervisor; David Johnson, supervisor; and Ardell Johnson, supervisor. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

It wasn't that Clearwater County was doing a bad job, but residents around Long Lost Lake wanted to manage their own affairs.

In 2005, they finally did. Long Lost Lake Township, located in southern Clearwater County about 25 miles from Bagley, was officially created on Nov. 8, 2005, as residents gathered for an organizational meeting.

More than six years later, Long Lost Lake Township remains Minnesota's newest township.

David Johnson, one of the three Long Lost Lake Township supervisors, said residents previously had considered organizing, but there was a catch: You had to have 25 residents in a township area to organize.

The 493-acre Long Lost Lake is known for its clear water and is located about 10 miles west of Itasca State Park. While there are homes and cabins located around the lake, many are not habited by full-time residents, so they could not count toward the needed population count.


"Most of the people are just seasonal," David Johnson said.

But in 2005, Marv Mortenson and his wife, Edna, retired to their lake home, and people thought they had finally hit the needed resident count.

A petition was soon circulated throughout what would become Long Lost Lake Township, which had by them accumulated 27 residents.

"Twenty signed it," David Johnson recalled, noting that no one voiced any objections to the creation of the township.

Ardell Johnson, also a township supervisor, said he had some reservations, such as how the board would make decisions if there were strong, differing opinions, but that concern has, to date, been for naught.

"Everybody's been getting along well," he said.

The Clearwater County Board of Commissioners - which before had managed the area's business - accepted the petition and put the question before would-be township residents by mail.

The response was overwhelmingly in favor of forming a township.


An organizational meeting was held Nov. 8, 2005, when three supervisors were elected: David Johnson, Greg Scherzer and Jon Jennings. Also elected were Mortenson as clerk and Dick Toomey as treasurer.

Those positions are largely unchanged, with the only difference being that Jennings is no longer a supervisor and, now, Ardell Johnson is.

The township today

The town board agrees that there were a few growing pains throughout the first years. Specifically, David Johnson said there is a lot of formality required in acting as a board.

"Mort, as clerk, has done an excellent job for us with that," he said.

The supervisors like to say that the only two men of their five who actually do any work are Mortenson and Toomey, as the clerk and treasurer.

"But we try to help them out as much as possible," David Johnson said.

There now are about 43 residents - about 40 voters - of Long Lost Lake Township. The supervisors said they could see its population increasing, but not by a lot.


"Most of us live up here because we like the peace and quiet, the solitude," said David Johnson, noting that the nearest town - and medical facility - is 25 miles away. And the nearest fire department is at least 11 miles away. "Not a lot of people would want to be way out here."

Long Lost Lake Township doesn't have a town hall, nor do supervisors see an immediate need for one. For their meetings, which used to be held monthly and are now held seven times a year, they rotate between each other's homes. Occasionally, a resident might show up, but that is rare.

"We don't have a rush of people coming to our meetings," David Johnson said.

"That means we're doing it right," Mortenson added.

The township oversees 8.5 miles of roadways, 3.2 of which are shared with La Prairie Township to the west.

Saving a lot of costs, supervisors noted, was that Long Lost Lake Township doesn't have any bridges.

"We get comments about how much better our roads are now," Ardell Johnson said. "The county did a good job, but I think we're doing a lot better job."

Why organize?

If the county board is capable of delivering services, then why organize?

"It's to have a direct, local governing body to organize and deliver services," said Kent Sulem, general counsel for the Minnesota Association of Townships, "to have a stronger voice at the county and state levels, to have some input in your immediate location."

Sulem said three townships have organized since 2000, including Long Lost Lake Township and Crane Lake Township in the northwestern tip of St Louis County. Sulem helped Crane Lake Township through its organizational process.

"People have a direct voice in what's going to be done and how they're going to pay for it," he said.

How it affects residents

Minnesota has 1,784 townships, in which 17.5 percent of Minnesotans reside, according to the Association.

"One size doesn't fit all," Mortenson said. "This has worked very well for us. It has been real good for our citizens because they're getting the biggest bang for their buck."

The township's budget is comprised of gas tax funds, tax-forfeited lands, payment in lieu of taxes and a local township levy, when implemented. In both 2009 and 2010, Lost Long Lake Township did not levy property taxes, which also meant it could not collect gas tax dollars either.

The township each year publishes one legal notice that announces the schedule for board meetings. On the rare occasion that a special meeting is needed, they announce it in the legal paper, the Farmer Independent, with 10 days' notice. There also is a public bulletin board upon which notices are posted.

David Johnson said the town board has had to work a little bit at managing expectations. Since a large number of people with seasonal homes in the area are out-of-towners, they occasionally have differing opinions.

For instance, it was once suggested that, for convenience, a garbage drop-off site be established at the public access point of the lake. The town board pointed out, in gently opposing the idea, that it did not want bears and other animals converging in that area.

Making their jobs easier is that the area is inhabited by residents who want to help. There already is an active lake association for Long Lost Lake - for which all five men have at one time served as president - that works in cooperation with the town board.

None of the men claim a salary.

"We all pretty much consider it a community service," David Johnson said.

Township Day is Tuesday

Township Day, held annually on the second Tuesday of March, will take place this week at town halls throughout the region.

Township Day includes annual meetings for townships and, in most cases, the election of township supervisors.

The annual meetings are not held until after the elections are complete.

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