Richard & Joanne Hufnagle, Big Falls MN
Dick and Janet Hufnagle, Richard’s parents, started a tree farm for themselves in the Big Falls area of Kochiching County (go ahead, say the name of the country for fun!) in 1959. The soil is ideal for growing trees and the location is perfect, just 40 miles from the Boise paper mill in International Falls and 70 miles from Blandin in Grand Rapids. At the time, the Hufnagles also started a tree farm for Richard, who was just 10 years old, with 109 acres.
Today, the combined tree farm has grown to over 2,000 acres. It is owned by the Hufnagle Family Limited Partnership. Partners include several of Richard’s six siblings who are scattered around the country.
When Dick Hufnagle was establishing the tree farm, he had a hard time making ends meet. He had to keep costs down and look for revenue in every place he could to pay the taxes. Today, the tree farm is a profitable, going business with a sawmill and a wood treatment plant.
To establish and maintain the woods, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted over the years. In the early years, there were a few fields to be planted so a machine was used. Today, all of the planting is by hand, mostly done by local people from town. Initially, Norway pine was the main species. More recently, white spruce has become a favorite. This year for the first time, oak was included among the 8,500 trees that were planted. “I tried on two occasions to establish cedar,” Richard said, “but the deer ate every one.”
Work has been done recently to establish jack pine. The soil was prepared with a special scarifying process to remove aspen sprouts and other brush and then allowed to sit for five years. The same results could be achieved with prescribed burning but Richard says, “I’ve been afraid of burning. Of the other prescribed burn efforts I know of in the area, it seems like half of them got out of control.”
The land was enrolled in the Tree Farm program early. Richard’s 109 acres was enrolled in 1960. Dick Hufnagle, besides being an avid tree farmer, was gregarious and hosted many events on the land. He holds a record because he was recognized as Minnesota’s Tree Farmer of the Year on three occasions, in 1982, 1990 and 2000.
Richard enjoys touring the more than 10 miles of roads and trails on the land, constantly stopping to prune a tree or clear a deadfall. He also enjoys hunting and trapping. There is a five-acre pond on the land that is fed by a small creek. It was once stocked with walleyes. “Once, I was trapping beaver in the small creek and caught two walleyes in my traps,” Richard said.
Joanne makes the three-mile trip from their home in town to the land often. She enjoys cross country skiing in winter and hunting for mushrooms in the spring while helping with the maple syrup process.
By Richard and Joanne’s description, the property, which borders on the Big Fork River, is gorgeous. Richard says, “We are privileged to be stewards of this land.”