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Wildlife sanctuaries join forces

Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center in Sandstone will expand by 562 acres through the donation of Blacklock Nature Sanctuary and the purchase of property adjoining the sanctuary east of Moose Lake.

In December, the Blacklock board of directors donated the sanctuary's 414 acres, as well as its financial assets (nearly $600,000) to Osprey Wilds. Osprey Wilds has recently closed on the discounted sale by Craig and Honey Blacklock of an additional 150 acres - located within the boundaries of Blacklock Nature Sanctuary - along with the historic home built by Craig's parents, Les and Fran Blacklock.

"This is a transformational donation," said Bryan Wood, Osprey Wilds executive director. "Along with the purchased property, it adds tremendous diversity to the types of ecosystems we are able to show our school groups. We will also be better able to serve schools and communities further to the north."

Even though Sandstone and Moose Lake are geographically close, the two sites are different in habitats and ecosystems. The Blacklock property in Carlton and Pine counties includes beaver ponds, shoreline on Little Moose Lake, stands of white pine, balsam, and hardwoods, and several black spruce and tamarack bogs.

Blacklock Nature Sanctuary was founded in 1995 by Les Blacklock and his wife Fran, their son Craig and his late wife Nadine, and Les and Fran's niece, Catherine Jordan of Minneapolis. The family, well-known for nature photography, wished to protect the land from development and make it available to artists and writers for residential retreats. A residency program, with stipends for the artists provided by the Jerome Foundation, ran through 2010. At that point the sanctuary's mission shifted primarily to land preservation. Most of the property is protected with conservation easements through the Minnesota Land Trust.

"The sanctuary has always been run by volunteers." said president Craig Blacklock. "Most of the work of maintaining the trail systems and bookkeeping was done by myself and my wife, Honey. That was becoming too much for us on top of our own photography business, but the even larger issue of succession has been looming for some time. The sanctuary is on sound financial ground, but I want to make sure the land will be cared for after we are gone."

The Blacklocks sought a larger organization to take over. Blacklock said he's had a relationship with the nearby Audubon Center of the North Woods, now Osprey Wilds, since the 1970s, and it seemed the perfect recipient. "Everything made sense for both organizations and for my family," he said. "It's a win for all."

Osprey Wilds, which sits next to Grindstone Lake about 4 miles west of Sandstone, serves more than 15,000 people annually through its environmental learning programs, including day-use and residential K-12 programs, post-secondary courses, youth, family and adult camps, community events, charter school authorization and group rentals. Osprey Wilds' mission is to "instill a connection and commitment to the environment in people of all communities through experiential learning."

"The possibilities and opportunities this presents are so exciting," executive director Wood said. "We are extremely grateful to the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary board of directors and Craig and Honey Blacklock for their generosity in allowing this milestone event for our organization to take place. We look forward to being stewards of the beautiful campus and connecting individuals to nature through its beauty for generations to come."