A new picnic shelter, trail updates and mountain biking informational kiosks are among the park improvements unanimously approved by the Crow Wing County Board.

At their Tuesday, Sept. 8, meeting, commissioners authorized budget amendments to fund these amenity upgrades using dollars collected from the sale of tax-forfeited lands along with timber sales.

The biggest ticket item approved was a picnic shelter for the county-owned park on Lower South Long Lake, expected to cost $75,000. The small recreation site, located along the southwest river outlet of the lake at County Highway 22 and Highway 25, currently offers picnic tables, barbecue grills, a fishing pier and a portable toilet during the summer months.

Land Services Director Gary Griffin told the board along with the shelter, a trail will be added to the fishing pier to increase the usability of the park.

“Currently we have picnic shelters at Milford Mine, we have one at the fire tower park, the proposal is to create the identical one and replicate that same feel and experience at our third on-land park, if you will,” Griffin said, adding the county also oversees two parks located on islands in the Whitefish Chain.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Also approved Tuesday was $35,000 to add granite to existing trails and create a new trail loop at the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park in Pequot Lakes and $8,000 to install kiosks at the new mountain biking trails in the city of Cuyuna and in Rabbit Lake Township. The county previously partnered with Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area to install informational kiosks at other trails, and county kiosks are located at several other recreational areas.

A decision on a fourth budget amendment request also pertaining to improvements at the fire tower park, was delayed pending more detailed information on costs following county board discussion. The request, which would fund benches and a history display along with concrete and pavement to improve accessibility for those with mobility issues, amounted to $75,000.

Chairman Steve Barrows asked Griffin for clarification on the amendment, noting a previous proposal including an additional picnic shelter at the top of the hill came in at the same cost.

Visitors head up the crushed granite path to the Pequot Lakes fire tower. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Visitors head up the crushed granite path to the Pequot Lakes fire tower. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Griffin explained adding concrete and pavement into the proposal in lieu of the picnic shelter accounted for the extra costs, and he said he built overage into the request so he wouldn’t have to return to request a couple thousand dollars here or there.

Koering said discussion with a Pequot Lakes resident revealed to him how much use the fire tower park is getting.

“I can remember when (former Commissioner) Paul Thiede proposed this, and I said to Rosemary (Franzen), I said, ‘Well this is kind of dumb.’ I said, ‘Oh, I’ll just let him go along with it,’” Koering said. “I’m not afraid to say that I’m wrong. But I’ve talked to somebody that lives up there and they said, you cannot believe the amount of people that are going to this park and going up to look at the fire tower and accessing the area. Before I got on the county board I thought why is Crow Wing County in the park business? I thought that was dumb. … I see that this is a good thing.”

Koering made the motion to approve the request while including the additional picnic shelter, which Griffin estimated would add another $50,000 to the project cost for a total of $125,000. Commissioner Doug Houge asked whether Griffin could provide an itemized cost of each aspect of the project, since the picnic shelter was not included in Tuesday’s request.

“It seems like any other project is fairly pinned down as far as cost,” Houge said.

Commissioner Bill Brekken agreed with Houge.

“I support and encourage the enhancement of the fire tower, but I really would like a better handle on what the costs are going to be in regards to if we do incorporate a picnic area up at the top,” Brekken said.

The board voted on Koering’s motion, which failed when only Commissioner Rosemary Franzen joined Koering in supporting it.

Houge then made a motion to delay a decision on the budget amendment until Griffin could provide the itemized list, which Franzen seconded. The board unanimously passed the second motion.

Visiting Crow Wing County’s parks

  • Milford Mine Memorial Park, 26351 Milford Lake Drive, Crosby, is the site of Minnesota’s worst mining disaster, where 41 Cuyuna Iron Range miners lost their lives in 1924. It includes a walking path, picnic shelters, benches, picnic tables, bicycle rack, cooking grills, an over-the-water boardwalk, a memorial wall and a canoe launching area/fishing platform.

RELATED: Milford Mine tragedy memorialized as county park

  • Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park, 5230 County Road 11, Pequot Lakes, consists of a historic fire tower open for the public to climb along with walking trails and a picnic shelter. The tower was built in 1935 and the county acquired the property from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2018.

  • Rollie Johnson Natural and Recreational Area in Upper Whitefish Lake, part of the Whitefish Chain, is a series of two small islands and one large island known as “Big Island.” The islands are open to camping at designated sites and contain hiking trails that wind through the undisturbed old-growth forests.

  • Rush Lake Island is an island located in Rush Lake, also part of the Whitefish Chain. It includes a remote and primitive landing access and a hiking trail with few amenities.

  • South Long Lake park, at the junction of Highway 25 and County Highway 22 in Long Lake Township, is a small recreation site along the southwest river outlet of Lower South Long Lake. It includes picnic tables, barbecue grills, a fishing pier and a portable toilet during summer months.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.