WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County will be asking for Department of Natural Resources assistance in completing improvements at Big Kandiyohi Lake East County Park.

The County Board gave administration permission to apply for a 2021 Outdoor Recreation Grant from the state DNR to help fund the construction of a new bathhouse, camper cabins, additional parking and roadwork at the nearly 32-acre park near Lake Lillian. The grant request is for $234,000, half the estimated project cost of $468,000.

"I believe if we can get 50 percent paid for, this is the option to go," said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

The new bathhouse will be centrally located in the park and be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 30-foot by 40-foot structure, larger than the current building, will also act as a storm shelter.

The two camper cabins will be similar to the ones built at Games Lake Park, offering more camping opportunities for the public.

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This will be the second try in two years to obtain a grant for work at Big Kandi East. Last year the county applied for two grants, one for Games Lake, one for Big Kandi East.

Only the Games Lake grant was awarded. The county received $65,000 to develop the camper cabins, improve parking and update the patio area at the rural New London park.

Kleindl said without the grant award, the new project probably won't happen due to cost increases. In just the last few years, building material costs have increased drastically. The estimated cost to construct one camper cabin has doubled from approximately $13,000 to closer to $30,000.

Completing the application process for the grant does not tie the county into doing the project. However, if the county is chosen for a grant, Kleindl strongly encourages the county to go through with the work.

"What I am asking, if we go through the process and we get selected for this, not to back out," Kleindl said.

If the project does go forward, Kleindl said he doesn't expect work to begin until next year. This year the county will be focusing on finishing work at Games Lake.

The grant application is due to the state by March 31 and grant awards will be announced in July.

Seasonal tent camping

While the county waits to see if a grant award is forthcoming, a new camping opportunity will be tried at Big Kandi East this year. A couple of tent camping sites will be available for seasonal camping for the first time.

Kleindl, who presented information on the pilot program, said the county received a few requests from campers looking for longer-term tent camping, a first for Kleindl.

"I am willing to give this a try," Kleindl said.

For campers reserving a spot for fewer than 29 days, the current daily rate of $23 applies. However, those wanting to stay 30 days or more will pay a reduced rate of $16.50, the same percentage off that seasonal RV campers receive.

"We want to be creative with our parks," Kleindl said.

The campers will have to be flexible as well. One concern raised about seasonal tent camping is the negative impact on the grass. It doesn't take long for the grass to start dying underneath a plastic tent.

"Most likely they will have to rotate it," Kleindl said of the tents.

Only a couple of tent camping sites at Big Kandi East will be open for seasonal camping. The county wants to make sure the county parks are available for as many people as possible and not just a handful of seasonal campers.

"We want to give people the experience of the great outdoors, especially in Kandiyohi County," Kleindl said.

For related stories, see Kandiyohi County Parks.