Sprawl of the Wild

Suburban sprawl isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s still one that
gets residents of the countryside, and even some city folks, all
riled up. Minnesota’s North Woods are facing sprawl in a big way,

Mike Mosedale writes in City Pages
. A coveted
lakefront cabin comes with a hefty price tag but not as much peace
and quiet as it used to. Large ‘cabins’ with clean-cut lawns and
private sand beaches have all but replaced small, countryside
getaways and mom-and-pop lakeside resorts.

Rural resident Barry Babcock has termed the leisure boom driving
this uninhibited sprawl the ‘recreational-industrial complex.’ The
most popular counties in Minnesota for vacationing have experienced
massive population influxes in the past 15 years. Schools of
speedboats and expensive watercraft cruise the lakes, and ATVs buzz
through the woods.

The growth has taken its toll on local economies. Large
corporate chains like Wal-Mart and Taco Bell are arriving in North
Woods towns in droves. Rising land prices and the booming real
estate market are forcing family-run resorts to close their doors.
Local businesses that cater to the seasonal tourist market are
encountering hardship because many residents of the new lakeside
cabins are choosing to stay year-round.

The environment is taking a hit as well. As prime lakefront
property becomes scarce, new residents are buying up marshy land
and filling it in to build houses and private beaches. Wetland
flora such as cattails and bulrushes that serve as nurseries for
aquatic species are in decline. ATV riders who take their vehicles
off trails and into marshes are scarring the landscape, with parks
unable to adequately regulate and enforce ATV use, according to
Babcock.

It all adds up to a bleak outlook for a treasured area. As
Mosedale writes: ‘Minnesota cabin culture has not taken its final
breath, but it’s thrashing in its last throes. The lake country
grows more crowded each year as it is hurtles toward its seeming
destiny as the Hamptons of the upper Midwest.’
Rose Miller

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Sprawl of the Wild

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