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Renville County Board tours area proposed as Off Highway Vehicle Park one week before vote on it.

This vacant, Tufto family building site is located along Renville County Road 15 in the area proposed for an Off Highway Vehicle Park. Field stones in the barn foundation reportedly were salvaged from the Joseph Brown mansion, which had been burned to its foundation during the US - Dakota Conflict of 1862.

OLIVIA -- Renville County's board of commissioners toured the area proposed as an Off Highway Vehicle Park on Tuesday, one week before they will take a vote on it.

The quiet, December tour gave little hint of the controversy that has divided neighbors and recreational users of the Minnesota River.

The commissioners will be deciding whether staff should proceed with efforts to obtain state and federal grant funds for an estimated $1.3 million park. It would be located in sections 22 and 23 of Sacred Heart Township north of the Minnesota River and east of the Enestvedt Seed Farm. It would be bisected by County Road 15, part of the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway.

If the county is to proceed with the project this coming year, it would need to have grant applications ready by the end of February, according to Mark Erickson, director of environment and community development. He is optimistic about obtaining state Legacy and grant-in-aid funds along with federal Recreational Trail funds for the park. The county would need to match portions of the grants, but at this point he is not sure how much money and in-kind services the county would need to offer in the competitive grant process.

Landowners have offered to sell separate parcels of 157 and 115 acres for the park.

The park is being proposed by the Minnesota Valley Trail Riders, and has the support of the Sacred Heart Township board of supervisors and the Tatanka Bluffs Corridor. They cite the recreational benefits the park would provide, as well as economic opportunities. The park could attract users from a multi-county area and make use of lands where aggregate resources are depleted, they noted.

The park's proximity to the Minnesota River and environmentally sensitive lands has raised alarm bells among many river users. Some of the park's neighbors have voiced concerns about dust, noise and safety issues as well.

The biggest safety concern is the use of County Road 15 and a township road by gravel trucks hauling from pits in the area. Erickson said initial plans for the park call for developing a culvert or tunnel under the roadway for OHV use. The plans also call for developing a perimeter guardrail to contain OHV traffic within the park. Berms, vegetation and the lower elevation of the mined areas of the park would contain much of the noise within the park, he said.

Tom Cherveny

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

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