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Building a Legacy… Restoring Relationships

We wanted to restore what was lost and there is no doubt that land is something special. -Neil Johnson

Back in the summer of 2003, my wife and I started to aggressively look for a lake property. We were told that what we were looking for would be impossible to find, but I had been to too many PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) seminars and read too many Zig Ziglar books to be deterred. And really, how hard should it be to find a private lake with quality water, firm shoreline, and five hundred acres of good hunting land?


My dream was born out of painful circumstances. When I was twelve years old my parents went through a pretty bitter divorce. In the process of the divorce, my mom, my brother, and I moved into the “big city” of Bemidji and my dad moved back to our house in the country. It was an idyllic place. The 160 acres of rolling topography featured a forty-acre lake and the Sandy River flowed through the property. It was about twenty-five miles northwest of Bemidji, MN, and the nearest town was the sprawling metropolis of Debs, population eight. It was where I caught my first fish and my only six-pound bass. It was where I shot my first deer and my first grouse. As kids we built forts, explored, and skipped stones. Living there was the best part of my childhood. The work was hard, but the play was fun.

We basically lived off the land. We had a garden that was probably half an acre, Dad always got a couple deer and some grouse, and of course I was more than willing to catch all the fish we could eat. But as Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cites, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”

My parents had some disagreements about who should be paying for what and the property ended up going back to the bank. My twelve-year-old mind found it tough to comprehend—for some reason I assumed that the land would be in our family forever. Losing the land was almost as tragic as not having both Mom and Dad at home anymore. It was a rough time. 

So you can probably see why finding a unique property was so important to me. My ever-supportive wife and I wanted to provide our kids with a strong legacy of faith, family, and land. We wanted to restore what was lost and there is no doubt that land is something special. It’s wild, real, and can’t be duplicated. You can walk it, smell it, touch it, and it provides for you. You can plant a garden, cut trees, or harvest game. It’s practical, yet you develop a strong emotional attachment to it. It is upon land that you can truly witness the glory of God’s creation. 

Over the years, as I grew in my faith and developed more understanding, I was able to forgive my parents. The biggest breakthrough occurred while I was on a missions trip to Africa. A pastor had entrusted me with delivering a sermon to his congregation on Sunday morning. I felt led to talk about forgiveness. As I prepared, it became quite obvious that I needed to forgive my dad in order to not be duplicitous. I wrote him a lengthy letter and apologized for the lack of respect I had shown him. Since then both Dad and I have enjoyed many hours of hunting, fishing, and conversation. He’s a great grandpa and my kids are always eager to see him. 

The Search 

So again, in that summer of 2003 Lora and I began our search. We looked at real estate guides, called on signs, and spent countless hours searching the Internet. We took one weekend and traveled through Alexandria, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids, Grand Rapids, and the Arrowhead Region with our two-year-old, Isaiah, and our baby, Nathan. (Yes, my wife is very patient and long-suffering). 


We eventually settled on our lakeshore dream, which we found on It was a piece that the founder of LakeshoreDreams, Eric Canfield, was a partner in. The land was in five separate parcels and consisted of 476 contiguous acres and a private eighty-acre lake. There were nesting loons, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and a heron rookery just down the creek. It was, and is superb, unique, and peaceful. It is a dream! And we knew right away it was the property we had been searching for. We immediately made plans to sell our home in Prior Lake and use the equity to apply to the land. We then worked with Eric, who was tremendously helpful in carrying our family’s vision back to his partners so we could put a deal together. 

During the many times we walked the land in the course of buying it, we noticed some nice stands of mature timber. We connected with Dave Hensel at UPM (Blandin) out of Grand Rapids, who had previously done a timber harvest on our land. He knew it well—both the land and his job—which gave us better knowledge and confidence that we were doing what was good for our acreage. Both he and our logger, Jim Scheff, were fabulous to work with. Not only did a certain amount of timber harvesting help us in paying for the land, it also greatly improved the wildlife habitat. Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? 

The Land

I look back at the times we have spent at “the land” and my heart nearly explodes. It has provided us with many opportunities to promote restoration in our family relationships. My dad has spent weekends with us hunting, fishing, and just talking. Mom comes to just enjoy the quiet, the sun, and the grandkids. I see the smile and wonder on my children’s faces (now four of them, with another on the way) as they catch frogs, find deer sheds, roast that perfect s’more, and cheer me on as I shoot that elusive grouse. I see the peace and joy in my wife’s face as the reflection of the fire dances off of it. There is life here, hope, peace, rest, and the need to only enjoy God’s most precious gifts to me … my family. There are no phones, no sales calls to make, and absolutely no traffic. Our lodging is a camper trailer. The living space is small and humble, but cleaning up is a breeze (with four little mud-bringer-inners that’s a nice feature). The only power comes from a generator and we have to port in our own water, which has taught us the value of conservation. 

On our most recent trip the wildlife was very active. The trumpeters were fighting with the geese over their territory (the geese left rather quickly), the loons were back, and two deer crossed our path as we were driving in. That night we cooked over the fire and my kids were able to roast hot dogs on sticks. All of this made my six-year-old son, Isaiah, exclaim, “This is the best day of my life. Can it get any better? We were so close to the deer and the swans and now we get to cook our hot dogs on a stick! It just doesn’t get any better than this!” 

Buying our property is the best investment we have ever made. It brings our family together in an environment where there are no distractions. With gas, food, college tuition, and just about everything else going up in price, families have to make certain sacrifices. We may start eating more potatoes, or other less expensive foods. We may look at driving less, buying a more fuel efficient vehicle that can handle a family of seven, or get creative about producing more income. But we are going to keep our land and continue to use it and enjoy it!

This is the best day of my life. Can it get any better? 
-Isaiah Johnson 

Five favorite memories at “the land” 

  1. Catching a mess of “slabbers” (big bluegills) with Lora and the kids 
  2. Stalking to within 30 yards of a deer with Isaiah last fall 
  3. Seeing my pastor’s son, Andrew, shoot his first deer 
  4. Watching my boys cut some trees with the timber processor 
  5. Hunting grouse with my dad