Minnesota land co-op reimagines 40 acre site as creative space

Tamarack Land Co-op plans vacation rentals, artist residencies and public events

A group of residents and artists in Cook County, Minnesota have banded together to form the Tamarack Land Cooperative, which intends to create a creative rural hub on a 40 acre site.

The group is looking to use a stretch of land at the east end of Cook County, with the plans recently approved by the local planning commission and the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Close by is the unincorporated community of Hovland, on Chicago Bay of the north shore of Lake Superior. A former fishing community for 19th century Scandinavian settlers, Hovland is in Grand Portage State Forest, an area noted for its water recreation, hiking trails and fishing.

The co-op will see members pay a monthly or annual usage fee in return for use of the property. Its permit application for the land use will “provide equitable access to stay and recreate in the area, while also building a community of people with shared values”; in the long term they hope it will address housing issues in the area.

Among the planned activities are vacation rentals, artist residencies, public events and chicken rearing.

Current owner Paul Stucker will be one of three full-time member residents, with six members staying 50 or fewer nights a year and 10 members staying 14 or fewer nights per year.

On its website, the co-op “envisions a space of dynamic harmony where a diversity of life shares resources. Together, we seek to enjoy and understand nature, harness co-operative power, provide opportunities for healing and growth, and encourage agency.”

It adds: “Through our programming, TLC generates equity and access to land, growing a community of people with the shared values of creativity, resiliency, and accountability.”

The plans have drawn concerns – along with some support – from Hovland residents, reflecting the tensions that often arise with development in rural areas valued for their solitude and tranquillity. This saw plans for the site scaled back by commissioners: the duration of intended use plan has been cut from five years to two, and the number and size of permitted events has been reduced – from 12 events a year with a maximum crowd of 80, to five events with a maximum crowd of 40, and conditions have been set around issues such as the septic system, light pollution and noise.

Speaking to WTIP Community Radio, Mr Stucker said the project is in “very much an exploratory phase” and there are details still to be hammered out with the planning authorities.

Margaret Johnson, a full-time resident at co-op property, told WTIP that events would vary in size and focus. 

“Right now our thinking on what those events may be, are really that they’re held in conjunction with the artists in residence so the artists that are coming to spend dedicated time working on a project or a practice, and that those events might take place during their stay or at the end of their stay.

“It might look like a showing of the work that they do. It might look like a workshop, a sharing of a skill or a practice that they want to teach. We really felt like those events would be targeted to the community and offering opportunities to have our neighbours and local artists in conversation with the artists we have visiting.

“I’m personally really interested in having regional and local artists in conversation with each other, showing work alongside each other, having conversations about what they do, and then also the potential for having local artists lead workshops themselves.”

Part of being a co-op means living on good terms in a community and Ms Johnson said the team wanted to hear about neighbours’ concerns. “it has been an opportunity for us to reflect on our project and on the ideas that we want to do.

“It was an opportunity to get feedback and kind of like how our internal conversations are being heard by others … We want to continue to be good neighbours. We want to continue to deepen our relationship with that piece of land and also with the people that we live nearby.

“This process has been a great opportunity for us to connect with our closest neighbours walking door-to-door and having conversations … We hope that we can continue to connect with people who have questions.”

Mr Stucker, who moved to the area from Minneapolis-St Paul, noted that locals valued the quiet solitude of the area and said he hoped the co-op would minimise the impact of a growing demand for activity.

“I think there’s a virtue to using the space that’s there,” he told WTIP. “It might feel a little counterintuitive at first, but it’s bringing that activity into one space rather than spreading it out.”

The virtue of the area is that it feels “sort of sparse and it’s pretty easy to get away and find that solitude and go walk out on a trail by yourself,” he added. “Part of that, I think, is actually acknowledging where the spaces are being used, and using them to their best capacity. 

“You know, say everyone in this co-operative went out and bought their own piece of land … that would actually have a much bigger impact on the character of Hovland.”