Proposed land exchange involving shoreline on Lake Winnibigoshish moves forward

Proposed land exchange with shoreline on Lake Winnibigoshish moves forward

The Lake Winnibigoshish Land Exchange Act is moving forward to preserve the shoreline.

This week, the House Natural Resources Committee voted to advance H.R. 1657 authored by Congressman Pete Stauber, the bipartisan Lake Winnibigoshish Land Exchange Act to exchange 36.7 acres owned by Bowen Lodge for 17.5 acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Chippewa National Forest.

Of this legislation’s passage out of committee, Stauber stated, “This land exchange is a win-win, which is why it advanced out of the committee with unanimous support. It will grant the Bowen Lodge permanent access to the waterfront, ensuring that guests and residents of Itasca County can partake in recreational opportunities for generations to come, all while helping the Chippewa National Forest achieve its management goals. I look forward to seeing this legislation considered on the House Floor soon.”

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman stated, “Representative Stauber has been a long-time advocate for public lands and their importance to the outdoor recreation economy. This includes improving access to public lands and addressing local issues that unlock the full potential of our public lands. H.R. 1657 will get Americans outside and exploring the incredible public lands the country has to offer. I want to thank Representative Stauber for his championing these issues and look forward to working with him to pass this bill into law.”

Lake Winnibigoshish, also known as Lake Winnie, is located on the Chippewa National Forest and is home to Bowen Lodge. Bowen Lodge is a fishing lodge currently run by Bill and Gail Heig, who have served as incredible stewards of Lake Winnie, while also providing fishing and recreation opportunities to the local community.

The Heigs told us they are now in their 41st year of operating the lodge.

Bill said, “Lake Winnie is a very special place. Our family is dedicated to helping protect and preserve the beautiful, natural setting.”

As for the land they plan on exchanging, “When we were able to purchase the land, we knew we had to preserve it. It’s extremely rare to find a beautiful piece of land on the Mississippi headwaters,” Gail added.

Currently, Bowen Lodge has a 20-year agreement with the USFS to lease acreage along the shoreline of Lake Winnie, where the Heigs operate their marina. Under their stewardship, Lake Winnie has remained accessible to the citizens of Itasca County.

Stauber’s bill would facilitate a land exchange between Bowen Lodge and the USFS, providing Bowen Lodge permanent access to the lakeshore and marina, along with greater certainty for the greater Itasca County community. In exchange for this land, Bowen Lodge would convey nearby acreage to the USFS, which would then be added to the Chippewa National Forest.

The Mississippi Headwaters Board has been working on this as well. Executive Director Ted Terrill said this parcel the Heigs are exchanging is really unique.

“There’s 18-20,000 parcels, and this one scored a perfect 10 for a variety of reasons,” he shared. “It’s been a great opportunity to work with the land owners.”

In September 2023, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Federal Lands Subcommittee held a legislative hearing to evaluate the bill. At that hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony from Itasca County Commissioner Cory Smith, who testified on the broad local support for Stauber’s bill, along with the benefits that this land exchange would provide Minnesotans, particularly the citizens of Itasca County.