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Kandiyohi County, Minn., tourism could see benefits from possible expansion of Sibley State Park

WILLMAR — Word Tuesday that preliminary negotiations are under way for the potential purchase of 153 acres of land west of New London to possibly expand Sibley State Park was exciting news for the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

“A mighty lucky county” is how Commissioner Dennis Peterson described the benefits if the plan is completed. “It’d be a real valuable asset to Kandiyohi County.”

Sibley State Park Manager Jack Nelson told the commissioners Tuesday the parcel is located at the corner of the intersection of County Road 40 and U.S. Highway 71 and is next to the existing park boundaries.

The terrain, which is mostly hilly grassland, could be used for additional trails for horseback riders and could provide an important link to bring the Glacial Lakes State Trail — a popular bike trail — from New London to Sibley State Park.

Incorporating the additional acreage would provide a “great draw” to the park, which would benefit the county, said Nelson.

In addition, the state would make payments in lieu of taxes to the county. For the first five years that rate would likely be higher than the current tax revenue generated by the property.

The potential availability of the land, and the idea of purchasing it to expand the park, was brought to the state by Sibley Park’s Citizen Advisory Committee.

In a letter to the Commissioners, Nelson said the state Department of Natural Resources supports the proposal and “would like to take action on the boundary expansion during the upcoming legislative session.”

A two-acre cemetery that sits atop a hill next to Highway 71 would not be included in the potential purchase.

Greg Soupir, the district supervisor for the DNR Division of Parks and Trails, said a study several years ago determined that the best way to bring the Glacial Lakes Trail to Sibley was to go west of New London on County Road 40 and north on Highway 71.

Both of those highways are very busy and the intersection between the two roads is congested.

Soupir said there are some willing sellers along County Road 40 to purchase land for a bike trail, and if the state purchases the additional 153 acres, an underpass could take bikers under both highways and provide a safe and scenic route to the park.

The state does not need county approval but did need to present its intentions to the commissioners before additional steps could be taken.

The acquisition “isn’t a done deal yet,” but Nelson said the state can now proceed with the next step.

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners:

- Certified the 2013 county levy of $28.6 million.

- Approved a job description for a project manager for the Phase II restructuring that includes integrating Family Services and Public Health into a combined agency that also includes links to the Veterans Service Office and Community Corrections Department. It was also agreed that a five-member steering committee be established to provide guidance for the transition.

- Heard a year-end report from Darin Balken from Prairie Lakes Youth Programs about the positive operational and financial stability of the programs.

- Approved an agreement with 10 counties and the city of St. Cloud to share equipment and services that logs and records all communications by public safety officials.

- Conducted a public hearing on a draft of the county’s 10-year water plan. Final approval is expected in about three months.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750