Special dedication event celebrates land’s family heritage and Don Nelson’s vision to protect it while leaving an environmental and philanthropic legacy.
NORTHFIELD, MINN. (June 7, 2019) – Northfield Shares, a community foundation centered on philanthropy, volunteerism and collaborative leadership, announced the formal dedication of the Engeseth-Rinde Unit of the Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on June 1 at the Valley Grove Church in Nerstrand. Don Nelson and nearly 50 of his family and friends attended the event, which was hosted by Northfield Shares and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in cooperation with the Friends of the Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.
Nelson, the site’s former owner, transferred the land to the DNR for a WMA through the Reinvest in Minnesota Critical Habitat Match Program (RIMCHM). Half the value of the land was donated to the State generating a cash match of equal value from the State’s matching fund.
Don’s generosity did not stop there. He also donated additional funds for the initial development of the property and established the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund through Northfield Shares, providing for continuous conservation, education, and research activities on the property and other important conservation lands nearby.
“Don Nelson is a shining example of how people’s passions can become their legacies,” said Mike Krance, Northfield Shares executive director. “By establishing the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund at Northfield Shares, Don not only ensures the preservation of his ancestors’ land, but he will provide for native prairie restoration and land stewardship in the area for years to come.”
Krance added that the endowment fund’s impact extends far beyond its environmental aspects by enabling Northfield Shares to perform its daily work to improve the Northfield area. “This fund’s very existence also helps support the administration of a variety of our daily activities like providing grants to the nonprofit community, coordinating storm cleanup volunteers after last September’s tornadoes, and hosting free educational events,” he said.
Many of Nelson’s relatives traveled from across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to attend this special event that celebrated the Engeseth-Rinde family history and Nelson’s environmental and philanthropic vision. Speakers at the event included Krance, along with Engeseth-Rinde Advisory Committee chair Dave Kuhnau, Minnesota DNR assistant regional manager Joe Stangel and DNR area wildlife supervisor Jeanine Vorland, Nelson, and his niece Barb Barzen. In addition, Stangel and Vorland presented Nelson with a framed wildlife print to help commemorate the dedication.
Origins of the Engeseth-Rinde Farm
The Engeseth family, of Norwegian descent, built their homestead in Nerstrand-area farm in the 1800s. Helena Rinde married Andrew Engeseth in the mid-1800s, and the farm was a gift to the newlyweds from Andrew’s father. Andrew and Helena raised seven children on the farm, one of which was Nelson’s grandmother, Johanna; their eldest sons Ingebret and Russel helped manage the property and eventually took over the farm.
In 1982, when no one in the family was in a position to take over the farm, Nelson and his brother, Richard, bid on the land to keep it in the family. Although Don and his siblings grew up in Minneapolis, they visited the Engeseth-Rinde farm several times a year and grew connected to the land. The Nelson brothers rented out the agricultural land to neighboring farmers, and Don also began planting trees on the property as a hobby. Don and Richard eventually divided the property for investment purposes.
Nelson, who owned several farm properties, put conservation easements on them so they could never be developed with housing. Next, he began working with the DNR to ensure the properties would be preserved. “I thought the DNR would be the best stewards of the property,” Nelson said. “All the farmland I owned is now owned by the DNR, and I have every confidence they will manage the land just the way I had wanted. I laid the foundation with these conservation easements and the DNR so I can go to my grave knowing my land is in good hands.” In addition to the Engeseth-Rinde farm, Don previously donated land through the RIMCHM program for the Rock Dell WMA and an addition to the Gordon Yeager WMA in Haverhill Township near Rochester.
Nelson sold his portion of the Engeseth-Rinde property (160 acres) to the DNR in 2015 and established the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund through Northfield Shares the next year. In 2018, he made a second donation to the fund, making it Northfield Shares’ first $1 million endowment. Distributions from the fund areused primarily for the purpose of restoration, research, silviculture and related educational activities on the Engeseth-Rinde Unit of the Prairie Creek WMA. Secondarily, disbursements from the fund will be used for the same purposes on other conservation properties within a defined corridor between Nerstrand and Dennison, Minnesota.
According to the DNR’s Jeanine Vorland, the Critical Habitat Match Program including this tract has been very important for the conservation of wildlife, their habitats and for the people that value wildlife-based recreation. “During the coming years, we are gradually retiring the land,” she says. The current crops and woods will gradually return to native habitat of prairie, wetland and oak savanna as the DNR’s restoration activities supported by the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund take effect.”
First Grants Awarded from Fund in 2018
The Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund awarded its first grants in 2018 for a total of $33,617. Grant recipients included the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (planting and invasive species control), and the University of Minnesota Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (balancing local adaptation and evolutionary potential of a prairie wildflower).
The Engeseth-Rinde Advisory Committee makes distribution recommendations to Northfield Shares. The committee is comprised of representatives of each of the following groups: the Don Nelson Family, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St.Olaf College, Carleton College, Friends of Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area and Northfield Shares.
According to committee chair Dave Kuhnau, the group enjoys managing the grant making process and the ongoing activities related to the fund. They were especially delighted to plan the dedication event. “We are so happy with results of the Engeseth-Rinde Unit dedication event,” Kuhnau said. “Members of Don’s extended family met or reconnected while celebrating their family history and the exciting future of this land. We look forward to more opportunities to partner with Don and Northfield Shares in building a legacy of environmental stewardship, habitat restoration, science and education.
Northfield Shares is the Northfield area’s community foundation founded to advance philanthropy, inspire volunteerism and promote collaborative leadership. The organization was formed when 5th Bridge and Northfield Area Foundation merged in 2014. For more information about Northfield Shares, visit northfieldshares.org. To learn more about donating to the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund, email Mike Krance at firstname.lastname@example.org.