Conservationist donates 500 acres for Rock Dell WMA

By Laura Gossman

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

ROCK DELL — A Northfield conservationist has donated nearly 500 acres of land to help create the new Rock Dell Wildlife Management Area about 12 miles southwest of Rochester.

Retired orthodontist Donald Nelson owned the property and has planted trees and maintained the grasslands along the South Fork of the Zumbro River for nearly 40 years.

"It’s one of those special places, with its clear waters and abundant wildlife," Donald said.


"I can’t bear to think of losing it to development."

To ensure the land isn’t developed, he donated the land to the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization that works to preserve land for public use.

"Landowners have many conservation options, some quite complex," Trust for Public Land spokeswoman Emily Miller said. "Mr. Nelson and the DNR asked us for help figuring out the best way to protect his land for future generations."

The Trust for Public Land sold the land to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for half its market value.

Donald Nelson has requested that the organization donate the money to an endowment that will enhance St. Olaf College’s environmental education program.

DNR area wildlife supervisor Don Nelson said the wildlife area will be open to hunting, fishing, bird watching, mushroom hunting and berry picking.

He said horseback riding and motor vehicles will not be allowed.

Currently, an old granary, hog building and shed are still on the 491-acre farm, and the DNR plans to bury those buildings.


"Mr. Nelson’s hobby was to buy farms and tend to them," Don said.

Rich with hardwood forests, river shoreline and rolling grasslands, the area attracts deer and turkeys.

Heelspitter and ellipse mussels, Ozark minnow and northern brook lamprey are among the animals that thrive in the river and are on the state’s list of Species in Greatest Conservation Need.

"What’s really special about this is that Mr. Nelson really wanted us to have this land after he is gone," Don said.

Donald Nelson showed interest in having the area turned into a nature center or environmental education center, but Don Nelson, of the DNR, said that isn’t in the DNR’s immediate plans.

Before the area is opened up to the public, Don said the DNR needs to post signs to prevent trespassing.

"We want to maintain good relations with our neighbors, so we ask that people not use the land until we post the signs," he said.

Laura Gossman covers news in Olmsted, Dodge, Fillmore and Houston counties. If you have news tips and story ideas, call her at (507) 285-7619.


For more information,go to

What To Read Next
Get Local