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Improving the view

Ramsey Falls is suspended in all its splendor by zero-degree temperatures Jan. 28. The Falls' observation deck at Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls will be upgraded thanks to a Parks and Trails Legacy grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt

REDWOOD FALLS -- The largest municipal park in Minnesota hopes to improve on its centerpiece with a grant from a new Department of Natural Resources source.

Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls, about 219 acres, houses Ramsey Falls, near where Ramsey Creek flows into the Redwood River and, eventually, on to the Mississippi River.

The observation deck of Ramsey Falls is in need of upgrades and hopefully expansion, according to Jim Doering, the Public Works Project Coordinator for the City of Redwood Falls.

"It's an ongoing process to improve the park. We've always been looking for opportunities to improve the outlook at the Falls," he said. "Instead of going to the park, parking, looking at the view and then leaving, we want people to stay there longer."

Doering wrote a grant application for a Parks and Trails Legacy Program grant. The total cost of the project, according to information released by the DNR, was about $709,000.

"Our original plan was to improve the current overlook and add another four, including walkways, railings, lighting, (American Disabilities Act) accessibility," he said.

Out of 76 applications for the fiscal year 2009, which totaled more than $30 million, 21 communities were awarded $3.4 million. Ramsey Park received $141,625.

Like many dreams, reality makes us accept what is given.

"We are looking at reducing the scope to fit the grant," Doering said.

What that exactly means for the Ramsey Falls observation area hasn't been decided, but soon the board of directors and Friends of Ramsey Park group will meet to determine what will get done with the state money.

"We are phasing (the project), trying to make it fit the award," he said. "For other phases, we will have to look for other money."

The Parks and Trails Legacy Program is one of many offshoots of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by Minnesota voters in the 2008 election, putting away 3/16th-percent of state sales tax revenue to outdoors and fine arts.

Like most state-sponsored grant programs, recipients need to contribute some of their own money. For the PTL grant, the state reimburses 75 percent of approved costs; the recipient has to come up with 100 percent of the money.

"The state agencies like to have the recipient put up some of the cost," Doering said. "They're thinking is that if the recipient has some money into the project, they will maintain it better throughout the life of the project."

Don't misread the disappointment as not being thankful for the grant, however. Doering said prior to the constitutional change, most grant programs funded only 50 percent of a project.

"We definitely don't want to turn back the money," he said. "You go in hoping for all of it, but we are grateful to get the award we got."

Alexander Ramsey Park was founded as a state park in 1911 and was enhanced in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The state gave the park to the City of Redwood Falls a number of years later. It has also been called "Little Yellowstone of Minnesota".