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County's park system debated

KINBRAE -- After meeting for nearly an hour with members of the Nobles County Park Board Monday night, county commissioners walked away with the realization their parks board doesn't want to part with any of the properties currently in the system.

The meeting at Maka Oicu County Park, near the shores of West Graham Lake, was the first between the county and the park board since dialog began earlier this year about the potential to sell some park land.

Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert said the idea was broached at a strategic planning session and commissioners discussed "maintaining property that never has a use, whether it's in the park system or anywhere in the county system."

"If the board is intent on moving forward with the disposal of any parks, (we need to decide) what would be the process they would want to utilize to do that, such as a public hearing," Ruppert said.

Park board member Tom Ahlberg said the county's discussion about selling park land, which appeared in an article in the Daily Globe on March 30, "came out of the blue for us."

"You kind of have a little bit of an antagonistic crowd you're dealing with right now," Ahlberg told the commissioners.

Commissioner David Benson said since the initial discussion, he has received several calls from people regarding both Sunset and Midway parks.

"There's a wish to have continued public access or continued public usage," Benson said. "That's something that came out clearly in pretty much every call. I was surprised how many people gave me information about their use of (the parks)."

Benson said he wasn't pushing for a change in the county's park system, but if there was to be a change in management or ownership, he wanted the public's ability to use the resource to remain intact.

After some discussion about vandalism and the cost of maintaining the parks, Nobles County Parks Superintendent Jerry Braun said only $2,500 to $3,000 is spent to maintain parks including Midway, Hawkeye, Sportsman and Pickeral. There is more cost associated with Maka Oicu because it is utilized as a public campground.

As for park usage, it is difficult to gauge how many of them are used.

Park Board member Dennis Kunkel said Midway Park is used for both hunting and fishing.

"From a public access standpoint, some of those (parks) are the few accessible properties to get onto the lake," added Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder.

"I'm surprised that people don't use (the parks) more," said Benson, adding that if the economy doesn't improve, people may begin to use their local county parks for more recreation.

In an effort to keep the discussion going about the future of the parks, Ruppert told the group there may be organizations that could maintain the public access.

"Maybe there's a better use for the parks -- for wildlife or different things," he said. "It doesn't necessarily mean it would be privatized. Maybe we need to work together with some of the organizations in a better use."

Nobles County Commissioner Diane Thier asked if a public meeting was needed to gather comments about the park system. Both she and Ruppert said they have received calls from people interested in purchasing park property.

"Why would we want to sell it?" asked Ahlberg. "Our cost of maintenance isn't much. Are we in that dire straits (economically) in the county that we have to start selling our assets? They're not making anymore land. What would the impetus be to make any changes?"

Vern Leistico, Nobles County Commissioner and Park Board member, said he couldn't "see any real reason" to sell off park property.

"Other than like Mel said, maybe there's a better use someplace, but I don't know what it would be," Leistico added.

"I really hate to give it up out of the public domain, and I'm not hearing a big need to do it," Ahlberg said.

Braun said park board members are in agreement that they want to keep the parks if they can -- and make sure they are available to the public "no matter what."

During its board meeting on Tuesday morning, Commissioner Diane Thier said she wants to continue discussion about the parks.

"I think we need to talk," she said. "As a board, it's still up to us. Maybe we could sell a part (of Midway Park) off to the DNR. (The park board members) do not want it, but to me it's a waste."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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