Jim & Jean Ballenthin - Backus, MN

Attorney Turned Woodland Owner

It always pays to keep your eyes open because you never know when you’ll see something that can change your life.

One evening in 1997, Jim and Jean Ballenthin were riding with friends on their way to dinner. Jim and Jean had just sold their home in the Twin Cities and moved to their lake place on Ponto Lake near Backus. They knew they were going to enjoy their lake home but didn’t have any other big plans for Jim’s retirement. That evening, as they rounded a corner less than a mile from their lake home, Jim noticed a For Sale sign on what appeared to be an old farmstead.

Five days later, a purchase agreement had been signed on that farmstead and 160 acres of land and Jim was on his way to becoming a woodland owner. The land turned out to be an ideal combination of a 60-acre red pine plantation, 20 acres of mature white pine including some that are 100 years old, plus areas of wetland, aspen and birch. A short time later, another 90 acres came available, making for a total of 250 acres.

Since that stroke of luck beginning, Jim has become a dedicated and very active woodland owner. He walks the one-mile wooded trail from his lake home to his farm buildings nearly every day to work on projects. He takes great pride in using wood from the land in a dozen different ways.

A metal building he purchased on Ebay houses a Wood Mizer sawmill that Jean bought for him. He also has a four-wheel drive Kubota tractor with forks and bucket and a six-wheel drive pug he uses for transportation around the woodland.

Outside there is a solar kiln that Jim made himself. Next door is a woodworking shop where has made white pine planks for his lake home, some of which are 18” wide. He’s also made kitchen cabinets and aspen wainscoting for a new guest suite.

The previous owner of the Ballenthin’s land had a stewardship plan, which Jim has had updated twice. “I really appreciate the expertise of our local foresters. In one case, I had a six-acre aspen blowdown which I had no idea how to handle. Norm Moody of the Cass County Land Department took one look at it and had the answer: Offer it to local loggers for a lump sum of $3,500.” With that, I got the downed trees cleaned up, earned a little income and now have a nice area of regenerating aspen.

Jim spent his career practicing general corporate law in the Twin Cities. Jean is a nurse and still works several four-day shits a month at United Hospital in the Twin Cities because she enjoys it.

Jim is a 2007 graduate of the Wisconsin Woodland Leadership Institute. Both before and after that experience, he has been very active in his community. Some of the roles in which he is currently serving are:

  • Ponto Lake Town Board chair
  • Cass County Soil & Water Conservation District Board chair
  • Region III SWCD secretary
  • North Central Landscape Committee member
  • Boy Scout merit badge counselor

Jim and Jean’s friends remember that evening in 1997 when Jim notices the For Sale sign on the way to dinner. How things have changes since!