(Photo submitted by Jay Schoning)
Those are usually two things that do not go together, but the Northern Plains Regional Landfill, south of Graettinger, is changing that.
The landfill, which is owned and operated by the city of Spencer, has entered into a 10-year agreement with the Palo Alto Conservation Board to manage several acres of future landfill space for public use, with the possibility of a contract extension in the future.
On Nov. 4, 2011, the city of Spencer purchased a total of 130 acres of land adjacent to the existing landfill for slightly more than $598,000. Of that land, about 50 acres is farmland that will be managed by a third party, while 74 acres are suitable for recreational activities.
"They've taken something the public doesn't necessarily care for, but we need, and made it something the public can use," Palo Alto Conservation Director Art Hampe said.
Hiking, bird watching, hunting and trapping will all be allowed on what will now be called the Northern Plains Regional Wildlife Area. Two smaller wildlife areas will tie in with the new tract of land.
In managing the land, Hampe said his department burned the prairie -- which has responded with the re-growth of about 50 different types of native plants -- and added 4,000 trees.
A portion of the land is native prairie that has never been tilled. Both Hampe and Spencer Public Works Director Mark White emphasized that it never will be tilled or utilized for landfill space. In fact, only about 38 acres of the 74-acre tract will ever be used for landfill.
Expansion into the new land is not expected for about 35 years.
"Once the current landfill is closed and capped, we anticipate to open that area up as a public wildlife area," White said. "It is a benefit to us, as we do not have to manage the area and Art Hampe and the county has been good to work with on the project."
He clarified the land was purchased years in advance to hedge against higher land prices in the future.
"We were able to make the purchase out of the landfill reserves without borrowing money," White added.
He is pleased that the general public will be able to take ownership of the area.
"The really neat part about this project is we've secured the future for the landfill," he said. "All the acres are owned by the public. With this agreement with Palo Alto County, the citizens get to use this property."