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Public asked to weigh in on options at Blue Mounds State Park

Trio of designs all call for deconstruction of Interpretive Center, former home of author Frederick Manfred.

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The former Frederick Manfred home opened as an interpretive center for the Blue Mounds State Park in 1976. It was closed in 2015 due to serious structural problems, from rotting beams to ponding water after rainfall. (Special to the Daily Globe)

LUVERNE — Nearly six years after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closed the Interpretive Center at Blue Mounds State Park, the agency has introduced a trio of options to reimagine Eagle Rock Vista Trailhead. All three options include deconstructing the interpretive center, originally built by Luverne author Frederick Manfred and used as his home and writing refuge from 1961 to 1975.

While the DNR seeks public input on the three proposals — ranging from a basic trailhead site to a space with a picnic shelter for gatherings, or a trailhead with an outdoor event space — Manfred’s daughter, Freya Manfred, is displeased with any idea that doesn’t recognize the historical significance of her father’s home.

Shortly after the DNR announced it was seeking public comment on its plans, the Save the Manfred House group issued a press release stating the state agency didn’t explore all of the alternatives.

“Over time, the DNR has demonstrated that it is not interested in maintaining or preserving the house, and has made the decision to demolish it without the kind of public review that such a decision deserves,” the release stated, noting demolition of the interpretive center would result in the “loss of a one-of-a-kind structure.”

Freya Manfred and her husband, Thomas Pope, established Save the Manfred House Inc. in late 2019, fearing the DNR would choose to tear down the structure. Already, it had been four years since the DNR had closed the building, citing unsafe conditions with rotting ceiling beams, water damage, floor heaves and mold.

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Manfred said she wants the DNR’s plans suspended until a more thorough review can be done and “all reasonable funding and preservation options can be considered fully.”

Her dad sold the property to the Minnesota Parks Foundation (MPF), allowing it to become part of Blue Mounds State Park. In 1972, the Minnesota DNR purchased the land from MPF.

“His expectation — and that of all of us — was that it would be maintained for the future,” Freya said last week from her home in Stillwater.

The Manfred house was designed to blend into the landscape, and built along a Sioux quartzite rock wall that was a focal point of the home’s interior. Her father did his writing from a windowed studio atop the house.

Freya was 15 years old when her family moved to Luverne, and said it was her younger brother, Frederick Jr., who most loved the home. Prior to his death in 2016, he led tours of the home, organized poetry readings there and visited the site often.

With his loss, Freya hopes others will step up and support the cause to, if not save the house, at least recognize the site as the home of Frederick Manfred, the writer of more than two dozen books who gave this region of southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota the name “Siouxland.”

“Whether you tear down the house or don’t tear down the house, the fact that he lived there — that he wrote his novels there, that he named the area Siouxland — it’s like somebody becomes a non-person,” said Pope, noting he and Freya were both shocked by the absence of reference to Frederick Manfred in the DNR’s plans.

“Would I be happy if there was some recognition? Of course I’d be happy,” added Freya. However, she can’t help but wonder if some part of the house can’t remain — specifically the studio where he dad wrote.

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Both Freya and her husband are disappointed that an historical architect sent to the site by the Minnesota State Historical Society wasn’t allowed inside the structure to evaluate its condition. She said the structure qualifies to be on the National Register of Historic Places, but noted the DNR doesn’t want the designation on the building.

In essence, Freya said the state had a legal duty to keep the building up and neglected it. Now, with deconstruction of the structure a part of all three options the DNR has presented for public comment, Freya is asking people to complete the DNR survey.

“It’s a unique house, historically, architecturally. I just think all or part of it could be saved,” she said.

And if it can’t be saved?

“I do like the third option the best of the three, so there is cover and you can have poetry readings, weddings, gatherings for the arts,” she said. “It could be a great meeting place for the arts. I think that that house invites conversation about the land itself and the history of the land.”

Realizing the 3,500-square-foot building would require complete reconstruction based on the severely rotted structural beam, continued moisture infiltration and mold — at an estimated cost of more than $2 million — the Minnesota DNR hired TKDA, an architectural and design firm, to evaluate the interpretive center site and develop concepts for its future.

Chris Ingebretsen, Blue Mounds State Park Manager, said the initial options focus on the building and its deconstruction.

“In the years to come, we’ll be looking at interpretive elements as well,” he said, adding that it could potentially include information about the site being the former home of Frederick Manfred.

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Ingebretsen said the name change to Eagle Rock Vista Trailhead is hoped to provide visitors with better information about the park’s amenities.

“People were often confused because there were signs directed to an interpretive center that wasn’t being used,” he said.

Ingebretsen was the manager at Blue Mounds in 2015 when it was discovered that a load-bearing ceiling beam inside the interpretive center had significant rot. It wasn’t the first sign of serious issues with the structure, though it was the one to cause the building to be closed. By 2018, the building was deemed unsafe for anyone to enter.

With three rather significant rain events at the park since 2013, Ingebretsen said the kiva — a recessed area on the main floor of the building — filled with water. The seepage is due to the structure being built on the cliff line and water seeping in along that cliff. The seepage has led to mold and mildew issues, rot and floor heaves.

In addition, snakes and small rodents have made their way into the building through cracks in the rocks. Ingebretsen said the site is home to a snake hibernaculum.

Personally, Ingebretsen said he’s excited that the DNR is moving forward with a plan for the site.

“It’s clear that the public wants to see something happen in this area,” he said. “I think all three proposals enhance the site. Moving forward, having a facility that’s more welcoming to the public is just the right thing to do.”

Ingebretsen said Blue Mounds State Park recorded its busiest season on record in 2020, with more than 65,000 visitors to the trailhead.

“People use it all summer long in record numbers and I’m looking forward to providing a better facility for them to use,” he added.

Minnesotans can review and provide comments through April 5 at mndnr.gov/bluemounds.

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A load-bearing beam inside the Blue Mounds State Park Interpretive Center shows significant rot in this image. The rot was discovered in 2015, leading to the center's closure. (Special to The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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