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Legal appeal delays but does not dampen enthusiasm for Chippewa County park project along Minnesota River

Chippewa County Park Board looks at what could be offered on land sought for county park

Chippewa County Park Project IMG_4535.jpg
Scott Williams, land and resource director for Chippewa County, points out a location on the Poier-Gibson property as County Park Board members meet with the two co-owners on May 17. They discussed possible amenities to develop at the site, such as a hiking trail and fishing dock, if the site becomes a county park. Counter clockwise from left are Dennis Gibson, Williams, Dave Nordaune, Keith Poier, Mark Suter and Jamie Winter.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

MONTEVIDEO — Science and agricultural students from the Montevideo Schools once knew this land as their outdoor classroom.

It's here that they took what they learned in the classroom and applied it to the outdoors, doing everything from grafting trees to identifying the mix of trees and plants comprising its riparian habitat.

The public may someday discover what this site offers as well. One of its ponds has a sandy beach and there is an offer by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to stock another with fish for “put and take” fishing opportunities for young people.

There are also picnic spots and hiking opportunities, soon to be improved. Jamie Winter, Montevideo Boy Scout leader, is planning to recruit some of the local scouts to improve the trails as well as clean up the area.

“It’s OK to work on it,” said Keith Poier, as he and Dennis Gibson, co-owners of the 40-acre site, met with members of the Chippewa County Park Board on May 17. Winter is a member of the board. Like the other members, he is interested in seeing development of the site progress.


The Poier and Gibson families have offered to sell their 40-acre property near the Minnesota River south of Montevideo to Chippewa County for its development as a county park. The county also hopes to add an adjacent 40-acre parcel owned by the state of Minnesota to make it an 80-acre park with access to the Minnesota River via an old road.

A roadway once ran along the property to a bridge that crossed the Minnesota River. The bridge abutments are still visible, although the bridge itself was hauled downstream over the ice to Wegdahl many years ago, according to Del Wehrspann, a member of the Chippewa County Park Board.

Research by the county has found no evidence that the easement for the roadway was transferred from public ownership, according to Scott Williams, land and resource director for Chippewa County.

The county has been hoping to develop this site as a park for many years, but those plans are on hold once again due to litigation.

In July of 2022, a landowner adjacent to the property, Robert W. Starbeck, filed a civil lawsuit claiming adverse possession and a prescriptive easement for a portion of the 40-acre parcel that has been owned by the Poier and Gibson families. They have owned the property since April 1974.

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A chain blocks access to property owned by the Gibson and Poier families that Chippewa County hopes to acquire for a county park.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

District Judge Thomas Van Hon issued a summary judgment dismissing the claims by Starbeck in December 2022 and issued a judgment in favor of the Poier and Gibson families in March 2023.

On April 28, 2023, Starbeck filed an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Due to the litigation, Chippewa County Attorney Matthew Haugen has advised that county staff should abstain from doing any sort of work on the property, Williams told the County Park Board members.


They met with Poier and Gibson to look over maps of the site and discuss possible recreational opportunities. The owners told them where an eagle’s nest can be found. They revealed a hot spot for catching crappies.

Board members expressed optimism for the park’s development, along with their frustration at the new delay.

The owners of a 40-acre property — which Chippewa County wishes to purchase for use as a park — charge in their counterclaim that a lawsuit against them is an attempt by the plaintiffs to muddy the title. The plaintiffs say they have been maintaining a road, camping area and farm field for more than 15 years and have an "adverse possession" claim to the land title.

Delay is not new to this effort. The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources approved a $170,000 grant to the county for the project roughly two years before the Legislature acted to allocate it, Williams said.

Williams told the board members that he has been in contact with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the grant award remains in place for the county. He said he advised the state about the litigation and an extension was approved for the county.

He also told the board that he has been in contact with the park’s other adjoining landowners, Tamara and Hodge Fender. They acquired their property just over a year ago for recreational use.

Part of their land is in a Reinvest in Minnesota or RIM easement. Tamara Hodge had told the County Board of Commissioners last year that they did not know of the county’s longstanding goal of developing the site as a park when they purchased the land.

Williams said he told the couple that the county could provide trees or other screening between the properties.

He said the property owners were concerned that a section of the former roadway the county intends to use for access is part of the RIM parcel. Williams contacted the Minnesota Board and Water and Soil Resources, which told him it would look into the issue.


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He said he was informed that roadways are not included as part of a RIM easement, and if it were unintentionally made part of it, BWSR would be able to remove it.

Richard Halterman, a retired science teacher from the Montevideo School District, said he and agricultural instructor Brian Albers used the Poier and Gibson property as an outdoor classroom for a number of years. It was an ideal location for outdoor learning, he said. “The kids really loved it,” said Halterman.

“Those were some of my best days,” said Halterman of the outdoor instruction the land made possible. He has been watching the county’s efforts to develop the site, and is hopeful. “It would be so cool to have it as a park,” he said.

Chippewa County is hoping to acquire the two parcels in the lower center, one owned by the State of Minnesota and the other by the Gibson and Poier families, to develop as a county park. The site is located south of Montevideo near the Minnesota River.
Chippewa County is hoping to acquire the two parcels in the lower center, one owned by the state of Minnesota and the other by the Gibson and Poier families, to develop as a county park. The site is located south of Montevideo near the Minnesota River.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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