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Kandiyohi County eyes long-term planning for park system

Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Kandiyohi County decided Tuesday to begin a long-term planning process for the seven county parks. Last year the county purchased a slice of land, shown here in 2017, to expand Games Lake County Park, and neighbors wanted assurance that the county had a plan in mind. 1 / 3
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Kandiyohi County decided Tuesday to begin a long-term planning process for the seven county parks. Last year the county purchased a slice of land, shown here in 2017, to expand Games Lake County Park, and neighbors wanted assurance that the county had a plan in mind. 2 / 3
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Kandiyohi County decided Tuesday to begin a long-term planning process for the seven county parks. Last year the county purchased a slice of land, shown here in 2017, to expand Games Lake County Park, and neighbors wanted assurance that the county had a plan in mind. 3 / 3

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County will take an in-depth look in upcoming months at the long-term future of the county park system.

The county commissioners and staff plan to discuss everything from current park assets to long-term needs and potential improvements.

The hope is to create a vision for sustaining the parks into the future, said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

"I think our parks are a gem," he said.

Two proposals to undertake a formal study — one from Wink and Associates and the other from the Mid-Minnesota Regional Development Commission — came before the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The commissioners delayed action, saying they were not yet ready to make a decision. They opted instead to schedule a work session sometime before mid-June to discuss the planning process in more detail and hear presentations from both the consultants.

"I'd rather do some work beforehand," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

It's the first time in many years that Kandiyohi County has ventured to take a comprehensive look at the future of the county parks.

The parks, seven in all, are among the county's recreational assets. All of them are located on lakes and most include beaches, boat landings and campgrounds. They are popular with county residents, but they also draw visitors from elsewhere. Kleindl estimated that at least half of the park system's users travel here from outside Kandiyohi County.

The county plans each year for improvements. Last year, for example, the entrance to Games Lake County Park was reconfigured and the parking lot was upgraded. In 2016 a new handicapped-accessible bathhouse that can double as a storm shelter was built at Big Kandiyohi Lake County Park West.

There's no long-term plan, though, and needs usually are addressed as the county's budget allows, Kleindl said. "The parks probably haven't gotten the attention they need," he said.

The lack of a plan also became a public issue last year when the county purchased a slice of land alongside Games Lake County Park to expand the park. Neighbors worried about the impact on nearby property and wanted assurance that the county had a long-term plan in mind.

Development of a plan for the county parks was "a specific ask" from the Games Lake neighbors, said Rollie Nissen, chairman of the County Board.

The upcoming work session, which likely will be scheduled at the beginning of June, will include a review of all the parks, an inventory of campsites and amenities and a report on operational costs. It also will be an opportunity for the County Commissioners to discuss the two consultant proposals in more detail.

The commissioners were not unanimous Tuesday that a study is needed.

Madsen said he prefers an internal process involving the board, county staff and park managers.

"I'm not at all in favor of spending $20,000 to $40,000 putting a park plan together," he said.

The money might not be well-spent if the county doesn't agree with a consultant's recommendations or act on them, Commissioner Jim Butterfield agreed.

Among the board and staff, "I think we could come up with a good plan and a sustainable plan," he said.

However the process is carried out, the County Board needs a vision, said Commissioner Steve Ahmann.

"Do we want to improve on the services we provide now? That's the question," he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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