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Swift County aiming to improve, expand Appleton Off-Highway Vehicle Park

The Swift County Board is seeking federal funds for improvements at the Appleton Off-Highway Vehicle Park while separately working to acquire more land. The commissioners and Appleton Sportsmen's Club representatives discussed how the park and the club's shooting range adjacent to the park can safely co-exist and possibly benefit each other.

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BENSON — The Swift County Board of Commissioners approved moving forward with an application for nearly $1.18 million in federal funds to improve the county-owned Appleton Off-Highway Vehicle Park .

The decision Tuesday came after meeting with representatives of the Appleton Sportsmen’s Club, which has property adjacent to the park. After discussing the concerns of the club, the commissioners and club members agreed the park and shooting range operated by the club can do more than co-exist.

“We could promote (the park and range) as a package, if you will,” said Commissioner Ed Rudningen. “It seems like a solution waiting to be found.”

The commissioners are moving forward with a long-range plan to improve the park based on the recommendations in a master plan adopted earlier this year. An earlier survey of park users and area residents helped identify the amenities that are most wanted.

The park is unique in offering trails for the full range of all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and off-highway trucks. And, it is one of the few off-highway vehicle parks available in southern Minnesota.

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The park now includes roughly 330 acres and offers about 20 miles of trails. The county is looking to expand the park by purchasing additional land in the years ahead. There is concern the park is not large enough for its current use. The survey used to develop the master plan found widespread interest by users in seeing more trail miles.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners approved a contract with the Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission to develop an application for a grant of $1,176,980 from the federal Economic Development Administration through its Travel, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation program . If awarded, the county would be responsible for a 20 percent match of $235,396, according to County Administrator Kelsey Baker.

The grant would allow for the development of a swimming beach on the small lake in the park. It would help develop wells for drinking water and restrooms with running water; a parking area; wash stations for the vehicles; landscaping and other improvements.

Separately, the county has discussed the possibility of purchasing about 37 acres of land from the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the park. The county has also discussed the possible purchase of land from Larson Gravel for additional land to expand the park.

The Appleton Sportsmen’s Club is interested in acquiring about six or seven acres of the 37-acre parcel in order to expand the long-range target area of the shooting range, according to Club President Ray Trager.

He told the commissioners that club members had felt “left in the dark” about the county’s interest in acquiring land for the park.

He said club members have also been concerned about safety. There have been riders in the park ignoring signs and driving up a berm that is a backstop for the rifle range.

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The club representatives met last week with Commissioner Gary Hendrickx and Swift County Parks and Drainage Supervisor Kody Fossum about the concerns. Hendrickx called the discussions productive and said there are a number of options being looked at to improve safety, from adding guardrails and raising the berm to possibly developing a short tunnel to connect a trail near the range.

Members of the Appleton Sportsmen’s Club said the shooting range is very busy. Along with use by its members, the range hosts high school shooting sports as well as training by law enforcement officers in the county. The National Guard helped develop the range with safety requirements to allow its use by soldiers for firearm qualification as well, the members told the commissioners.

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