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Renville County looks at costs to meet license requirements for county parks on Minnesota River

OLIVIA — Renville County can continue to offer overnight camping in its parks along the Minnesota River and meet Department of Health licensing requirements without a major hit to the capital improvement budget, according to Mark Erickson, environment and community development director.

The county will need to invest $71,800 in the next two years to meet the licensing requirements, but most of the proposed improvements were being planned anyway, Erickson told the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The proposed capital improvement budget for the next four years will need to increase by about 20 percent, according to the proposal.

The major costs are for adding potable water systems to Skalbekken, Vicksburg, Beaver Falls and Mack Lake parks, and adding vault toilets to Beaver Falls and Mack Lake parks.

Adding the water systems will cost an estimated $34,000; adding the toilets will cost an estimated $25,000. Other needs include adding more garbage containers ($4,200), emergency signs ($1,650), storm shelter signs ($350), and fire rings ($6,600).

Last year Renville-Kandiyohi County Public Health notified the county that its parks along the Minnesota River that offered more than five overnight camping sites were not in compliance with health regulations.  

Erickson said the county has been making improvements — such as adding new toilets in Skalbekken and Beaver Falls parks in recent years — as part of its long-range plan to improve the parks.

“Those are things people have asked for, especially water,’’ he told the commissioners while speaking about the capital improvement projects.

He said the county will still need some variances from the Department of Health for licensing. The parks are located in a river floodplain, and were developed before the Health Department regulations were established for overnight camping. The regulations restrict camping activities in flood-prone areas. Erickson said the county closes the parks when flooding occurs.

The commissioners expressed some concerns. Commissioner Randy Kramer said he would like assurances that the county would be able to obtain the licensing and variances needed before taking on the added costs. Erickson said his conversations with public health have been positive and he is optimistic that things will work out.

“Maybe we should just look at getting rid of a couple of parks and (we) wouldn’t have to be looking at that money,’’ said Commissioner Lamont Jacobson. He said the county could turn some of the land back to the private sector. Campers might have to go a little farther for a site, he added.

The county has options, Erickson replied. The licensing requirements apply to parks with five or more sites. The county could limit camping to four sites at non-compliant parks, he noted.

Tom Cherveny

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

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