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A 729-acre tract of forest, grasslands and ponds in the St. Croix River valley near Pine City, Minn., has been donated to the state for long-term protection, the Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday.

The gift from the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, will be managed by the DNR as part of the Chengwatana State Forest.

"The benefits of public land projects like this are tremendous, providing clean water and air, high quality habitat, and recreational opportunities," DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement. "We look forward to managing this land to meet Minnesotans' recreation, conservation and economic needs into the future."

The land was owned by Xcel Energy for decades. The power company has extensive land holdings in the St. Croix River valley, including the area near the hydroelectric dam in St. Croix Falls, Wis. The gifted parcel runs about 3 miles north to south and sits 400 feet from the river, the width of buffer considered part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

The Trust for Public Land purchased the parcel from Xcel Energy for $1.75 million — its fair market value — using a Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund grant. The heritage fund was created in 2008 when Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment and a state sales tax increase of 3/8ths of 1 percent. A third of the money raised from the sales tax increase goes to the outdoor heritage fund to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game and wildlife habitat.

"For generations to come, this place will be protected and treasured by countless hikers, hunters and wildlife viewers," said Trust for Public Land Minnesota state director Susan Schmidt in a statement. "Spending time outdoors is critically important for our mental and physical health, and with about 3 million people in the Twin Cities an easy day-trip away, this is a big win for our people and our planet."

Since 1972, the Trust for Public Land has protected more than 3 million acres of public land.