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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > RSDP Newsletter > RSDP Happenings - Focus: The Township of Crane Lake, est. 2002

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RSDP Happenings - Focus: The Township of Crane Lake, est. 2002

December 2014

By Susan Seabury, consultant with CRS Marketing

Crane Lake .... one of Minnesota's newest townships!
(Photo by Susan Seabury, CRS Marketing)

At the base of a large freshwater lake in the north woods of Minnesota sat a very small unincorporated group of residents. The closest form of government was St. Louis County with a northern office in Virginia approximately 50 miles away. The folks in this small 'town' had an influx of summer residence, or second home landowners, which would drive population totals up from about 180 in the winter months to several thousand during the summer. These seasonal landowners had different opinions on issues that affected public land use and resources than the permanent residents. Those issues coupled with other potential problems were the reasons why a few landowners decided to form a task force in search of and to prioritize possible solutions.

The group decided to create a Community Action Plan which listed several points of interest that they would like to see happen in their little area. The task force decided to hold several town meetings and determined that forming a local form of government was at the top of the list. Since the task force had little knowledge of how to attack this project, they approached the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NERSDP) to ask for help. The residents needed to decide between township, city, or remaining an unincorporated town and NERSDP would turn out to be exactly the kind of help they needed.

Okey Ukaga, Executive Director of NERSDP, went to work bringing in folks from within the university who had expertise in process and politics, the Minnesota Association of Townships, St. Louis County, and various other entities. Meetings were held to educate the group who would then pass that information on to the other residents. Eventually, the decision to form a township was made. Once the decision was made, the work to form the entity began. The residents would need to have a vote, which has its own process to follow. If the vote to form passed, another vote to elect officers would take place as well as making decisions on township laws, how to handle the volunteer fire department, water, sewer, etc.

After a lengthy process, the work to form was finally finished and the Township of Crane Lake, Minnesota was a reality. This would allow the town to work with the St. Louis County, U.S. Forest Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and others on a more level playing field. The formation not only allowed for a transfer of tax funds to the town, it also opened the door for a land swap with the Forest Service that would help with development and adding to the tax base.

As of November 2014, the land swap which has taken over 10 years has become reality. Ruth Carlson, who was elected as the very first town board administrator, informed Dr. Ukaga of the completion. To celebrate this lengthy accomplishment, the town residents held a party at the Voyagaire Lodge.

It has been over 10 years since the group formed a town and many changes have taken place. I met with Butch Eggen, who initially led the group to NMSDP, and Ruth Carlson. The Town of Crane Lake now has their own visitor's bureau and website, has been the filming location of a Hollywood movie soon to be released, a brand new construction of the Voyagaire Lodge & Houseboats, and the long awaited land-swap with the U.S. Forest Service. Crane Lake has always had a bright future, but now it is more in the hands of the residents thanks to their determination and the assistance of the Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership.

Crane Lake is a beautiful destination. With great food and lodging, miles of shoreline, and excellent fishing including the best guides to show you all the hotspots, it is truly a place you will go back to year after year. So plan your next vacation to Crane Lake by visiting their website,!

To discuss any project ideas your community has, contact one of the NERSDP Board members or Okey Ukaga, Executive Director, at (218) 341-6029 or

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