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The Washington County Board approved on Jan. 2 its first purchase of land from the former Kelley Land and Cattle Co., agreeing to pay $3.6 million for 240 of the operation's 2,600 acres. The deal is expected to close this month.

The land will become part of the Big Marine Park Reserve, and the county expects to buy more land in the next two years to eventually add a total of 685 acres to the park. The stepped approach allows the county to request reimbursement from the Metropolitan Council for 75% of the cost of the land. The remainder will be paid for with funds from the county's Land and Water Legacy Program funds.

The deal has been years in the making, and was first announced last fall. The remainder of the former cattle operation, some 1,915 acres, will become a state wildlife management area known as Keystone Woods.

The ranch was established in 1958 by James E. Kelley, a prominent Twin Cities attorney and businessman who died at age 93 in 1989. His heirs continued to raise cattle and manage the land. Considered one of the largest undeveloped tracts in the metro area, the property includes lakes, woods, wetlands, wildlife habitat and wide open expanses of rolling prairie and grassland that for years sustained sheep and a herd of Angus cattle.