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Parks commission urging Renville Co. to upgrade, license for campgrounds

In this 2012 photo crews with the Minnesota Conservation Corps finish work on improvements at a Skalbekken Park shelter. Tribune file photo

OLIVIA — Renville County’s Park Commission is recommending that the county upgrade and license the campgrounds in four of its most popular parks, rather than limit camping.

Jill Bruns, Renville County public health director, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the recommendation came after she met with the Park Commission about the need to upgrade and license the campgrounds.

Currently, the campground at Lake Allie is licensed and meets health code requirements.

The campgrounds at Beaver Falls, Birch Coulee, Skalbekken and Vicksburg parks are not in compliance with state health laws based on the number of camping sites. The Park Commission is recommending they be upgraded and licensed.

That would allow the county to maintain the existing number of campsites in the parks.

Mack Lake has only four sites, and consequently does not fall under the requirements. Anderson Lake does not offer camping sites.

As public health director, Bruns notified the county earlier this year that it was not meeting state health requirements at the campgrounds in the four parks. She told the commissioners that the increased popularity and usage of the parks’ campgrounds made it impossible for her to ignore the rules any longer.

Improvements are needed to assure public health safety at the parks, Bruns told the commissioners.

The most costly improvement is the need to provide a potable water supply for some of the campgrounds. Currently, Skalbekken, Vicksburg, Mack Lake and Anderson Lake parks lack water supplies. Hand pumps are available or will be available at Beaver Falls (north and south camping areas) and Birch Coulee.

The county will also need to make improvements to the bathrooms at all of the parks, improve the handling and storage of garbage, add fire rings, and meet spacing requirements for sites at the parks.

Mark Erickson, director of environment and community development, said he would be developing an estimate for the commissioners as to the costs for bringing the parks into compliance.

The Park Commission is proposing a three- to five-year process to do so.

Bruns said that once the county licenses the campgrounds in the parks, they will be inspected. Correction orders for the campgrounds in Beaver Falls, Skalbekken, Birch Coulee and Vicksburg are sure to follow.

As long as it is moving forward with plans to make the corrections, the county would not be fined, said Bruns.

The need to improve the campgrounds has led to some concerns by those who appreciate the rustic nature of the parks and the camping opportunities in them. Bruns assured the commissioners that the parks will retain their rustic character while also protecting the health of those using the parks.

She noted that the improvements should serve to help the county in its efforts to promote the parks.

Erickson said that even before the licensing issue surfaced, the Park Commission was planning to make the types of improvements needed.

The county has been making improvements to the parks on its own as well as with assistance from the Minnesota Conservation Corps, a program run through the state that provides work for young people in natural resources and conservation projects.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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