September 16, 2008

Historic North Woods Islands Protected Forever


Contact: Walter Abramson of the Minnesota Land Trust, +1-612-647- 9590

Island home of legendary conservationist Ernest Oberholtzer to remain undeveloped

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Minnesota Land Trust and the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation announced the permanent protection of the Review Islands -- the Rainy Lake home of conservationist Ernest C. Oberholtzer. Completion of this project ensures that the islands' important historic, scenic and conservation values will remain in place forever.


Ernest Oberholtzer was born in Davenport, Iowa in 1884 and lived to become a central figure in the wilderness protection of the international border lakes region that today includes Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. "Ober," as he was known, came to love the region as a young Harvard graduate. Ober was a contemporary and philosophical partner of the leading conservationists of his day including Sigurd Olson and Aldo Leopold. These mid-20th century visionaries leveraged their personal commitment to the protection of wilderness areas and articulated the need for a national policy to protect the natural environment.

Eventually settling on Mallard, one of the "Review Islands" lying near International Falls, Ober constructed a series of unique buildings using native materials that blended with the rugged granite and pine landscape. Ober lived on Mallard Island for 50 years, where his status as a soft-spoken conservationist and friend of the Ojibwe became well known.

Following his death in 1977, colleagues of Oberholtzer and supporters of his conservation ethic formed the non-profit Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation to preserve his "North Woods legacy." Today, the Foundation hosts a variety of educational, literary, and conservation-based programs. Each summer Mallard Island becomes a unique cultural center for a busy schedule of visiting groups of writers, photographers and musicians. The island is also used by the Ojibwe community for the study of language. Fifty-plus volunteers work to keep the island and its buildings in good shape, authentic to Ober's last years.

The Review Islands themselves comprise 18 acres and approximately 10,000 feet of shoreline. Lying like ships in review, Mallard Island is joined by three others: Hawk, Crow and Gull. All four islands are now protected by a permanent conservation easement held by the Minnesota Land Trust.

Funding for the project consisted entirely of private donations from members of the Minnesota Land Trust, the Rainy Lake Conservancy and the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation.

Beth Waterhouse, executive director of the Oberholtzer Foundation notes, "It was with four years of study and much discussion that the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation board of directors made the decision to work with the Minnesota Land Trust to protect all four islands with a conservation easement. Our mission already protects the islands and limits development, and we know that the current building codes on Mallard's granite spine would do the same. Nearly a decade ago, the islands were also declared a national historic site. Yet we wanted to make a statement to future boards of directors, to the state and the community about the importance of what Ober called 'the university of the wilderness.' There is nothing like it, and it is worth saving in the formal sense by entering into this agreement and collaborating with the Minnesota Land Trust to preserve the islands.

"The Rainy Lake watershed is unique in all the world: with its hundreds of thousands of acres of lake, channels, wetlands and islands. And the fact that one-fourth of it lies within the United States and the remainder in Canada adds interest, intrigue, and sometimes a political agenda. Our 21st Century interest in it, of course, reflects Ernest Oberholtzer's 20th Century interest in it, and it is his spark of energy that we keep alive with our work on Mallard Island."

While this is a signature project for the Minnesota Land Trust, it is not their first project on Rainy Lake. In 1997, the former owners of nearby Windsong Island protected their land with the Land Trust and a potential third project, also in the vicinity, is underway.

"The Review Islands project is important for many reasons," says Jane Prohaska, president of the Minnesota Land Trust. "Ober was such a driving force behind the protection of the wilderness and keeping this historic site protected is important for symbolic reasons alone. In addition, protecting the islands and others like them preserves the rugged nature of Rainy Lake, which is the reason people come here in the first place. The Review Islands lie just outside the boundary of Voyageurs National Park -- the only national park in Minnesota. "

The Review Islands will remain under the ownership of the Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation, which continues to conduct its mission- based programs. The Minnesota Land Trust will visit the Review Islands annually to ensure that the terms of the easement remain intact.

Local reaction has been positive. Waterhouse notes, "We have been fairly quiet about this decision. Thus the community's reaction, so far, has also been quiet. Those who notice the 'protected forever' signs or have seen written notice of this decision have been entirely positive -- to them it seems quite in line with what they already know about Mallard Island."

The Minnesota Land Trust

The Minnesota Land Trust is a private, non-profit organization with offices in Duluth, Ely, Red Wing and St. Paul, Minnesota. Its mission is to preserve the natural and scenic heritage of our state by permanently protecting lands and waters that define our communities and enrich our quality of life. The Land Trust works on a voluntary basis with willing landowners, local communities and other organizations to protect lands that have shaped Minnesota's rural and natural character and remain an important part of the Minnesota experience today. It has completed 369 projects protecting over 33,000 acres and 660,000 feet of shoreline. Additional information is available from their website:, or by calling 651-647-9590.

Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation

The Ernest C. Oberholtzer Foundation is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Ober's North Woods legacy, as a source of inspiration, renewal, and connection to the natural world. More information is available from their website:

SOURCE Minnesota Land Trust

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