The uncertain future of the Pequot Lakes fire tower might be getting clearer if Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede has anything to say about it.
"I have suggested that perhaps the DNR - because they are not keeping it open to the public - that perhaps they would be interested in conveying it to the county," Thiede said of the fire tower during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Jan. 16. "I think there is a lot of community support for this - to get it back open to the public."
Thiede represents the area where the tower is located off County State Aid Highway 11.
The Department of Natural Resources-owned fire tower, which closed to the public last year, was built in 1934. Also in 2017, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The tower is no longer in use.
At Tuesday's meeting, Thiede spoke to other commissioners about his idea of having the DNR convey the tower to the county for the price of just $1 so it can be reopened to the public.
"I believe the county is the right one to own this because it sits on a 40-acre parcel of land that is a working forest," he said. "The cities don't have a forestry plan. We have the facilities to incorporate it in our own forestry plan."
Thiede added that there's also a possibility for the area around the fire tower to become a public park someday and maybe even the site of a fire suppression museum.
Commissioner Paul Koering was skeptical at first.
"The question I have is what about liability?" he asked. "If we get into the business of Crow Wing County - or other counties - of developing a whole park system within our county ... pretty soon we're having to levy for this. I just don't know that that's really the core responsibility of Crow Wing County government."
In terms of liability, County Administrator Tim Houle said the county carries liability insurance, and the tower would fall under that umbrella of coverage. He added that the county would, of course, want to assess the tower before acquiring it to make sure it isn't in danger of falling down.
Thiede said a lot of research has been done on how to make sure structures such as fire towers are secure enough to be open for public use.
As far as the county developing parks, Thiede said that's just a possibility down the road.
"I don't see this as a movement to start creating parks," he said, adding again that his goal is simply to reopen the tower to the public, an idea that has the support of several local organizations, including the Pequot Lakes Historical Society.
The point of Tuesday's discussion, Houle said, was mainly to see if the county is willing to move forward in the process of acquiring the tower.
"The ask today is simply: Can we proceed with the due diligence of finding out whether or not the DNR has any interest (in conveying the tower)?" Houle said. "If they had interest, then I think we would go back to (the county board) and ask for an assessment of the tower to be done."
According to a letter from Forrest Boe, director of the Minnesota DNR's Division of Forestry, the DNR is willing to work with the county on the conveyance process. The $1 price, however, might have to be negotiated when the time comes.
Thiede said he would just like to be able to direct the Land Services Department to draw up a resolution to bring before the county board at its Jan. 23 meeting. Koering and Commissioner Rosemary Franzen - the only other commissioners present at the meeting - agreed to that request.