Feasibility study states park would be self sustaining in five years

Photo by Barbie Porter
The Frazee Parks and Recreation Committee recently met to discuss the Wannigan Park Board.

By Barbie Porter


Frazee Park and Recreation Committee met with the Wannigan Park Board on Monday, Jan.3.

Wannigan board member Denise Anderson attended the meeting to share progress made on the regional recreational dream. The park plan includes paths for biking, jogging and hiking, areas for school activities and an amphitheater where plays and musicians could perform. There would also be sites for RV and tent camping. 

The park concept was first pitched during a town meeting in 2017, when the 150-plus acres were put up for sale by former owner Mark Kelly. At that time the land was being sold for $600,000, but no committee had been formed to even begin a fundraising campaign. Kelly parceled the land and held an auction, at which time a few acres were sold to individual parties. The remainder,  was later sold to Greg Ness. 

Ness, an avid wildlife photographer, was drawn to the land with panoramic views, a meandering river and covered bridge crossing it. Ness heard about he regional park plan. In February 2019 he announced the land would be put in a trust for the regional park, provided progress was made to secure funding to purchase the property. If the sale was made and the park became a reality, Ness also requested naming rights for the covered bridge.

A regional park committee had formed and included members of Frazee’s business community, residents and a representative from the National Park Service. A rough draft master plan took shape and was submitted with necessary paperwork to Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. The state commission ranked the park, with a high ranking meaning state funding was likely attainable. When the committee received a reply from the Greater Minnesota National Park Service in August of 2021, the Wannigan Park plan received a “high” ranking.

The board began working towards a non-profit status, so donations can be tax-deductible. They also began creating a detailed master plan and sought out a property assessment, as they were told potential state funds would not exceed the assessed amount. The charge for the land assessment was stated to be $7,200. During the January monthly meeting of Frazee’s Economic Development Authority, the board requested a $2,500 donation to help pay for the land assessment. It was stated Becker County already committed $2,500. The appraisal was stated to be set for the end of January.

Anderson explained the board has sought input from the county and those who organized the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area fundraising campaign. Their initial goal will be to raise about $2.5 million for the first phase. 

The board has asked the city to take ownership of the park, once the land is purchased. Anderson explained it would be a similar agreement the city of Detroit Lakes has with the Detroit Lakes Mountain Recreational Area, and to obtain some funding such an agreement would be necessary. Anderson said the agreement would be a 30-year contract.

She emphasized it is not the groups plan to have the city take responsibility of running the park, or to burden the tax payers to fund it. It has been stated at a previous meeting the board intends to hire its own maintenance crew for the park.  Anderson said a feasibility study was done, and with 49 campsites planned, the study suggested it would be self sustaining.

Ashley Renollet, who is a member of the Wannigan Park Board and a banker, confirmed the feasibility study projections stated in five years the park would be self sufficient.

Wannigan Park Board Member Hank Ludtke noted the development of the regional park is also in the master plan the city, and its residents created.

Renollet also noted seasonal RV tenants at a nearby park, some of which she said she knows, are often seen in town shopping, so from that aspect there is potential for economic growth for local businesses.

Discussions of providing water and sewer came about. Anderson said there would be an option for a well system, or if the city wanted to, it could bring infrastructure to the area and reduce the number of dead ends within its systems.

Park and Rec Committee Member Mike Sharp, who is also a councilman, stated he had no issues with the proposed agreement between the park committee and city. It was stated the contract was being sent to the city attorney for review.

Sharp also stated he thought conversations about infrastructure  should be had when all funding sources are lined up.

Park and Rec Committee Member and Frazee Councilman Mark Flemmer asked if there was an advantage of the city taking ownership, opposed to the county.

Anderson said the county offered to help with grant work and monetary donations, but not property ownership.

Flemmer added he has “no objections” to the park, but is opposed to adding any financial burden to the city.

Ludtke noted when the event center was built, it was done so by outside committees, who allowed the city to operate the facility as if it were its own. When the building was paid in full, it was handed over to the city. The same concept is being used with the proposed park. He also emphasized the park would be a unique attraction as it would be where three major trails meet: the Otter Tail River Trail, North Country Scenic Trail used by hikers and the paved pedestrian Heartland Trail.