Anticipation mounts for Monson Lake State Park plan

SUNBURG -- Like a fishing trip to its namesake lake, plans for tiny Monson Lake State Park on the eastern edge of Swift County have taken on an air of anticipation.

SUNBURG -- Like a fishing trip to its namesake lake, plans for tiny Monson Lake State Park on the eastern edge of Swift County have taken on an air of anticipation.

"Exciting,'' is how Don Lottman, president of the Friends of Monson Lake State Park, described the proposed management plan unveiled Wednesday during an open house in Sunburg by the parks division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The new management plan calls for possibly expanding the 187-acre park by 158 acres to include much of adjacent West Sunburg Lake, including 10,200 feet of undeveloped shoreline.

The plan also opens the way to install electric hookups to many of the 20 rustic camping sites in the park, lengthening the camping season, and developing other amenities in the park.

They include the possibility of adding canoe-in campsites, a group camping area for scout, church or family groups, and perhaps a rental cabin.


"We're very happy with the plan,'' said Lottman. "We'd like to see the park grow.''

The management plan is the first step in that process.

It still requires final approval from state parks director Courtland Nelson, but that could happen in relatively short order, according to Colin Kelly, author of the plan.

Once the plan is approved, the state park system can take advantage of $25,000 already appropriated by the state Legislature and install electric hookups in the camping area of the park. Archaeological work at the park has cleared the way for installing the electric hookups at six of the 20 rustic camping sites in the park, according to Doug George, state parks archaeologist.

He said additional archaeological work is needed before electricity can be extended to other sites. George found artifacts of American Indian habitation at the site dating back at least 3,000 years.

He said the site could very well have been a popular camping site for indigenous people for as long as 8,000 years. They would have come to harvest the lake's abundant stands of wild rice, he explained.

Today's visitors come most often to try and lure game fish from its waters, but bird watching, camping and opportunities to enjoy the park's peaceful quiet are also important attractions. Its significance as a memorial to lives lost in the U.S. and Dakota War of 1862 and its historic Veterans Conservation Corps stonework buildings are also important attributes.

The park saw an estimated 19,479 visitors in 2006, including 1,129 who camped overnight, according to the DNR.


Adding electric hookups in the camping area is expected to increase visitor numbers. Rod Gronseth, the park's manager, said he handles many calls from prospective campers inquiring about the availability of electric hookups.

Plans to extend the camping season beyond the fishing opener to Labor Day weekend should also increase usage. Gronseth said hunting opportunities in the area around the park could attract many autumn campers.

There could be more park land to enjoy in the future as well. Paul Otto, manager of Sibley State Park, said the management plan calls for expanding the statutory boundaries of Monson Lake by 158 acres to include much of adjacent West Sunburg Lake. The owners of the West Sunburg Lake property -- who first acquired it in 1976 for duck hunting -- have expressed interest in seeing the area protected as part of an expanded Monson Lake State Park.

West Sunburg Lake attracts thousands of migrating waterfowl every year, and a wooded area along its shoreline is something of a mecca for song birds. It attracts a surprising variety and number of birds, he said.

If the state approves funding to expand the park, and the landowners remain willing to sell, the park plan calls for preserving the West Sunburg shoreline in its undeveloped state. That would protect the "viewshed'' and quiet that many of the park's campers and visitors appreciate, noted Otto.

The West Sunburg Lake property also includes a cabin that could be used by overnight visitors in the future, according to Kelly. He said the proposals for canoe-in campsites and a primitive group camp are for locations on West Sunburg Lake as well.

Parks officials cautioned that while the management plan sets the framework for improvements at Monson Lake, they are not guaranteed. The availability of funding will play a big role in determining what the parks division can undertake, Kelly and others explained.

One factor that influences decisions on where to invest funds is park usage. Gronseth said that Monson Lake State Park has seen an increase in visitor numbers over the last couple of years. He and park users at the meeting said they are optimistic that the trend can be continued with the improvements outlined in the plan.

What To Read Next
Get Local