9/26/2013 1:32:00 PM County Board debates county park extension
by Paul Martin
Public Works Director Greg Isakson showed a map, and pointed out several parcels of land to the members of Goodhue County Board on September 17. A chain of parcels join the Goodhue County Park on Lake Byllesby and Hannah's Bend Park in Cannon Falls along the south bank of the Cannon River. Various public bodies either own them, or have easements on them. Together they form the planned route that links the Cannon Valley Trail to the new Mill Towns Trail. A new bridge to be built in 2014 will take this trail over the river just below the dam, and join it to the Dakota County Park. "If you combine these parcels, they amount to a sizable potential regional park," said Isakson.
The board was considering recommendations from the Parks Advisory Board on the future of one part of the chain of properties, a 36-acre parcel the county bought in December 2012. The land, which lies just to the east of the County Park and fronts Hwy 19, is the southern section of a parcel that formed part of the Goudy farm. The northern section was needed for the new trail bridge. The owner would only agree to sell the parcel as a whole. At the time of the purchase, the board gave themselves a two-year window to decide a use for the land, failing which it would be sold.
'What is the Signature
of Your Park?'
"We have been working on the possibilities with Dakota County," continued Isakson. "One of their park planners asked us to consider this: What makes your park special? The Parks Board came up with four features that set it apart: the lake, the river, the trail and its scenic views (especially from the top of the bluff)." From there, they came up with a long wish list. There could be a trail head, with a visitor center, canoe and bike rentals and a gift shop; an Event Rental Area, which could house art shows, swap meets, an amphitheater for concerts, a pavilion for weddings and reunions; a Sports Complex, planned in association with Mayo Health Systems; or an RV and camping area. This is one of the likeliest uses, so long as it is well-run.
When it came to voting, the Parks Advisory Board sent a unanimous message. They strongly recommended that the county should retain the land, and not sell it. That said, they were open to the county either managing the park itself, or leasing it out to private operators.
"We Need to Look at the Whole County."
Commissioner Ron Allen showed his frustration at this point. "The Board needs to look at the whole County, not just this one area," he said. "We need to use our limited resources to enhance city parks in other areas." County Administrator Scott Arneson partly agreed. "We need to have a full visioning process for the whole county," he said, "but this is our only county park, and we need to maintain and enhance it."
Since this meeting was a Committee of the Whole, there was no set agenda, and no formal vote. Isakson and the Parks Board were just testing the waters, and looking for guidance. That guidance came loud and clear. Though Commissioners listened politely to the stream of ideas, they have not changed their minds since last December in one respect: they have no interest in adding the land to the county park, and managing it themselves.
The clearest proposal came from Commissioner Ted Seifert, who said, "If we lease this land, we have an opportunity to raise revenue, and use that to enhance parks and other facilities in the rest of the county. Business owners will know best how to manage and develop this land."
Commissioner Jim Bryant picked up on the idea. "The private sector may think of exciting possibilities with this whole area. If we invite proposals, we need to leave our request as wide open as possible. Then we can assess the proposals we get." Bryant also believes it is important to educate people about what a good resource we have in the lake, river and trails.
Staff will move to invite proposals to lease and make use of the land.