SACRED HEART TOWNSHIP -- Neighbors and property owners bordering a proposed off-highway vehicle park in Renville County want the county to stop it dead in its tracks.
The proposed $1.3 million park near the Minnesota River in Sacred Heart Township has the support of the township board of supervisors and the Minnesota River Valley ATV Club.
The county is currently applying for grant funds for the proposal. It has not yet made a final decision on whether to go forward. Two landowners have offered to sell adjoining parcels of 157 acres and 115 acres in sections 22 and 23 of the township for the park.
Many of those living near the site and owning property there believe county residents will oppose the park once they learn how it will impact the area. "I'm still optimistic the county board will think twice about it,'' said Tim Helgeson, of Spicer, as he and other landowners and residents hosted reporters at the site last week.
"Maybe they haven't heard from the people,'' he said.
The commissioners will be hearing concerns about safety, noise and dust pollution, as well as activities that the opponents describe as being in direct conflict with the natural attributes of the Minnesota River Valley area.
"You're going to canoe down the Minnesota River,'' said Gene Fenske, one of the opponents. "Right. Put your ear muffs on.''
Noise is a concern for brothers Bill and David Zaske too. David Zaske's home borders the proposed park and is perched on a bluff overlooking the river valley.
But David Zaske said safety is the primary concern. County Road 15 is a gravel road that handles lots of truck traffic from gravel pit operations during the summer months. The park is sure to attract young riders who will use the road to reach the site, he said.
Its remote location also means that emergency medical care and law enforcement services will not be readily available at the park. Yet accidents and law-breaking incidents are inevitable, he noted.
Its remote location is also why the opponents believe the park will offer no economic benefits. There are no nearby businesses. Sacred Heart is 11 to 12 miles distant.
"Renville County will pay the bill and Redwood (County) will get the full benefits, and I mean the full benefits,'' said Bert Enestvedt.
He and his wife, Vernie, are part of the Enestvedt Farm, located on County Road 15 near the park. The farm was originally homesteaded in 1878. They pointed out that the area is part of the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway, and that historic sites including the Rudi Memorial and Joseph Brown Wayside Park are near the park.
Vernie is especially concerned about the park's proximity to Opal Lutheran and Rock Dell Lutheran churches, each of which is within a two-mile radius of the proposed park. Like others in the area, she doubts that the noise from all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes can be confined to the park.
"The noise isn't going to go down into the ground,'' Helgeson said.
The noise will echo and reverberate in the valley, according to Greg Reek, a lifelong resident. He is also an avid equestrian who served 10 years on the Renville County parks commission.
Reek said his parks commission experience convinced him that an OHV park is needed, but not in the river bottom area where no services are available and the potential for environmental harm so great.
"There is land better suited in Renville County than the site they've chosen,'' said Tom Kalahar, who hunts on land to be included in the park. "It's a lack of planning and trying.''
While part of the park would be located in exhausted gravel pits that were never re-landscaped, the majority will be on land now in grass and trees, including restored prairie and conservation acreage.
"It's a huge black eye for Renville County to destroy a wildlife area and (Conservation Reserve Program area) and replace it with a mud pit and a race track,'' Zaske said.
He and others charge that the park -- to be surrounded by a guardrail fence -- cannot be "blended'' into the river valley scenery as supporters claim.
The county will be seeking grant funds to cover 90 percent of the costs. It will apply for $500,000 in state Legacy Amendment funds in September, a point of contention for opponents. They charge it would be a violation of law to use Legacy funds to develop an existing, natural area.
The Legacy Amendment approved by voters increased the state sales tax to be distributed for clean water, outdoor heritage, arts and cultural heritage and parks and trails.
Opponents also charge that the proposed park violates Minnesota's environmental rights law, and adversely affects their property. Helgeson and two others jointly own 90 acres of land permanently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. They purchased the property for its natural resources. Bordering a park with steady OHV traffic from April to November is certain to chase wildlife from the area and shatter the quiet that attracted them to the property in the first place.
Helgeson said developing a park is a direct affront to the intent -- and a violation of the promises made -- when land is enrolled in conservation.
If they cannot make their case to the Renville County Board of Commissioners, the property owners said they would take it to the courts. "I hope it doesn't get to that,'' said Helgeson.