Recommendations from Commissioner's advisory task force
In August 2007 the DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten created an Advisory Task Force of representatives from local units of government and key stakeholder groups to provide recommendations on the local and regional issues related to the park proposal and the types of experiences that might be made available at the new state park. They presented their recommendations to the Commissioner on January 15, 2008.
Task Force Purpose:
- Goals for Natural & Cultural Resources
- Outdoor Recreation Opportunities
- Park Development
- Interpret the land, water, historic, and cultural resources and provide educational opportunities
- Provide opportunities for the local community and the park to prosper
- Issues and Concerns
Provide recommendations to the Commissioner of Natural Resources on the range of opportunities, desired future resource conditions, and types of state park experiences at the proposed state park on Lake Vermilion. Identify issues to be addressed in the park master planning and natural resource assessment processes in the areas of: local economic and political, outdoor recreation, and natural and cultural resources.
Report to the Commissioner by January 15, 2008 on the above in detail sufficient to support a draft park concept plan and request for funding for the Governor’s 2008 budget recommendations to the legislature.
Task Force Membership
Tim Tomsich, Brietung Township Supervisor
Charles Tekautz, Brietung Township Supervisor
Stephen Abrahamson, Mayor of Tower
Dave Danz, City of Cook Council Member
John Lindroos, City of Ely Council Member
Mike Forsman, St. Louis County Commissioner
Bob Wilson, Sportsman’s Club of Lake Vermilion
Jay Schelde, Lake Vermilion Resort Association
Nancy Larson, Stuntz Bay Boat House Association
Rod McPeak, Citizen at Large
Mark Ludlow, Ludlow’s Island Resort
Mary Somnis, Iron Range Resources
Corey Strong, Bois Forte Tribal Government–Nett Lake
Dorian Grilley, Executive Director Minnesota Parks & Trails Council
Tim Campbell, Explore Minnesota Tourism
Courtland Nelson, DNR State Parks Director
Craig Engwall, DNR Northeast Region Director
Paul Maurer, DNR State Parks Regional Manager
For more information about the Commissioner’s Advisory Task Force or the proposed Lake Vermilion State Park contact Courtland Nelson, Director of Parks & Trails, 651.259.5602, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protect the natural resources. Provide outdoor recreation experiences that are in harmony with the natural and cultural resources.
- Preserve the integrity of the lake by keeping it as natural as possible. Protect the shoreline, steep slopes, wetlands, and scenic vistas.
- Work with the Bois Forte Band in the management of cultural resources within the park. Coordinate investigations of pre-settlement activity with the Bois Fort Tribal Historic Preservation Office on an ongoing basis through development and operation of the park.
The Lake Vermilion complex should emphasize healthy lifestyle activities with a variety of vigorous options for local users and tourists, such as hiking trails, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing.
Provide low-impact land-based recreation activities such as cross-country skiing and hiking. Give visitors the ability to access scenic overlooks from hiking trails, and provide picnic areas and benches along trails. Keep the park more natural by developing fewer roads and by designing transportation options such as bike trails and bus service within the park. Provide connections to local snowmobile and bike trails, such as the Taconite and Mesabi Trails. Don’t allow trails through wet areas in the park. Consider a near-shore hiking opportunity to see other vistas, but limit impact to lake users and visitors using other amenities (campsites, for example).
The park has the potential to support a world-class cross-county ski venue. A spectacularly designed touring trail that includes overlooks for the northern lights and trails through the big pine along the lake and by the rock outcrops would attract visitors from a long way away to the community. This activity would contribute to making the park a year-round attraction and the region an even bigger cross-country ski destination.
Provide facilities and activities that will attract youth to the park and help them develop an understanding of Minnesota’s natural and cultural resources.
The facilities should create excitement about Lake Vermilion, the forest and wetland, and the cultural history in the Tower-Soudan area. Efforts should be made to incorporate healthy lifestyle skills with fun activities that youth will see of value to their future. As with all groups, technology will be key in connecting with this group and providing current and valuable information to make their activities more rewarding (such as WiFi, GPS, podcasts). Activities may be passive (photography center, food harvesting, nature walks) or active (hunting and fishing skills, rock climbing, ‘survivor’ game skills) but relate directly to the park and its resources.
Trail opportunities hold great promise for youth for planned and unplanned activities throughout the year. In conjunction with other businesses and non-profit organizations, many experiences could be provided within the park and in conjunction with the Mesabi Trail.
Strong consideration should be given for a youth skills camp that complements other similar facilities in the area. Managed by a non-profit board this group could help fill the need for urban/suburban kids to have outdoor skills development in a wild lands environment. Working with schools, churches, and other non-profits DNR could build a youth camp that would meet some of this need and help develop another generation of citizens who have an appreciation for Minnesota's natural and cultural resources.
A spectacularly-designed touring trail that includes overlooks for the northern lights and trails through the big pine along the lake and by the rock outcrops would attract visitors from long distances to the community.
The year-round park could include a focus on winter experiences and the opportunity to learn about the winter world, such as camping, and hiking, and specific winter recreation skills, such as cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.
Protect the shoreline by avoiding development in this area. Design roads to avoid impact to steep slopes and wetlands. Provide signage to inform visitors about protecting the land base; for example, instruct about not cutting trees and taking plants. Avoid impervious surfaces wherever possible, in order to protect the lake’s water quality.
Use land-friendly design to provide access to vistas that don’t disturb other vistas. The park is located in an area with limited development, which gives an opportunity for a “night sky” experience, such as seeing the northern lights. Avoid artificial lighting that would detract from this feature.
In addition to the facilities that are already in place at Soudan Underground State Park, planning efforts should use the topography and terrain to lay out a set of roads, trails and facilities for park visitors. Much of the land is ‘near wilderness’ in quality with healthy forests, wetlands, and shorelines. A much smaller portion of the land has roads and impacts from previous human activity. Some portion of the property should be developed for camping, day use, management and interpretive activities. Boat-in and hike-in opportunities would give a primitive feel to isolated campsites on the lake. Campgrounds should be constructed at easily accessible locations with modern restrooms and more typical park camping services.
Provide WiFi connections for the benefit of the visitors to access the WEB, download park information, and create park experiences such as geocaching and natural resource research and social networking about their outdoor experiences. Interpretive facilities should be more about the interpretive experience and less about building facilities. Trail use will be determined by the resource plans of the park and needs of the various users. Give attention to connection with the Mesabi Trail and the Taconite Trail for park access and egress for motorized and non-motorized users.
There may be an opportunity for a portion of the park south of Highway 1-169 to be used for skill development (archery range, dog sledding, mountain bike play area) that involves unique features or space from other activities. Day use facilities will be available for area residents and resort guests for small or large group activities including mining history, trail activities and lake based experiences.
State parks and recreation areas provide a wide variety of outdoor recreation for visitors, from physically active pursuits to quiet, passive activities. These range from deer hunts, swimming beaches, rock climbing, and other physically challenging activities to bird watching, winter photography, geocaching, and walking for pleasure. The Lake Vermilion complex should emphasize healthy lifestyle activities with a variety of vigorous options for local users and tourists, such as hiking trails, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing. There also should be parts of the park that are left undeveloped to accommodate solitary pursuits like hunting, geocaching, photography, and snowshoeing. Water-based interests will be highlighted with regards to access to the lake and information about activities on the lake, such as fishing, and canoeing. Trails should connect with major trails outside of the park for easy access and egress for motorized and non-motorized users.
Facilities on or near Lake Vermilion should ensure clean water and reduce impacts of park visitors
Find a balance between keeping the lakeshore largely unspoiled or developed but still provide access and use of the lake. Basic boating access facilities could be constructed near the park campgrounds, which will include launching facilities, restrooms, interpretive and educational displays, and parking. Improvements should be made to the Stuntz Bay area in a similar fashion. A specific number of primitive campsites should be created along the lake with no visual connection and appropriate development including bear lockers, fire grate, and tent pads. Build a limited number of camper cabins, which will provide a rustic camping experience along the trail system. The existing facilities along the lake at the east end of the property can be used for management, storage, and group and day use activities.
In providing access from the park to and from the lake, work within the limitations of shallow bays by establishing no wake zones and locating ramps, launches, and docks in more appropriate areas that avoid visual impacts from the lake and traffic congestion on the shore. Develop boat ramps in a way that keeps as many natural features as possible. The park will need a good prevention program of monitoring and checking boats for invasive species and could serve as a model for other lakes and even other public ramps on Lake Vermilion.
Provide a canoe launching area away from bigger boats. This could be an opportunity for a ‘portage trail’ experience within the park to the lake. Provide lake access for people without boats, such as a pier, where visitors (especially children) can see the lake, fish, etc. This could also serve as a location for educational and interpretive activities. Provide access from the lake to the park, such as tie-ins for houseboats, to reach hiking, picnicking, other park activities; however, this should be for a limited duration with a focus on accessing the park experience and using the park facilities.
Find a balance between keeping the lakeshore largely unspoiled or developed but still provide access and use of the lake.
People will want to learn about the area’s ecology and stewardship of the resource. Activities such as bird watching could serve as a way to teach these topics. Use the water resource as an educational opportunity where visitors can see what a healthy lake ecosystem looks like and gain an understanding of aquatic vegetation and the wildlife that depend upon the water ecosystem. The park could serve as a leading resource for education on invasive species prevention by incorporating literature and classes with other nature learning opportunities.
The site’s natural features will provide a wide variety of educational and interpretive opportunities:
- Create ways to engage kids to learn about the flora and fauna of the site. The flora and fauna could be interpreted to teach visitors about the origins of the area and how the site looks today.
- Use the park to educate visitors about the land ecology, about a site located in a transition zone, and about the effects of climate change on this particular site.
- The geology of the site can be used to understand the history of human inhabitation of the area, with displays, interpretive trails, and a connection to Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Conduct ‘rock tours’ as a way to tie the park to other geologically significant sites in the area.
The wide varieties of wetlands on the site provide an opportunity for habitat interpretation. They could be accessed by boardwalks and tied in with the fishing pier concept for water resources. The old growth and second growth forests provide additional opportunities to interpret the park’s land resources.
Visitors will want to learn about the geologic, flora, fauna and human history of this area—from pre-settlement to today—and what role natural resources played in the lives of the people in this area. This area has a wealth of history for educational and interpretive opportunities, including American Indians through the Bois Forte Band, the ethnic groups that make up the area’s population, the great opportunity to tie in with Soudan Underground Mine and the Stuntz Bay historic district, the early logging history of the area, and the lake’s fishery and the history of lake transportation.
Consider the following ideas for providing historic educational and interpretive opportunities:
- Partnerships with local historic and cultural organizations.
- A new site and facility between the two parks for history and interpretation.
- Partnerships with boat tour operators on the lake for guided interpretation of the area, docking at the park.
- Up-to-date improvements to the Soudan Underground Mine building, expanding the building to tie in with the park, or building a new facility.
The park could include a focus on winter experiences and the opportunity to learn about the winter world, such as camping, and hiking, and specific winter recreation skills, such as cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. Teaching winter recreation skills is another partnership opportunity with the local community.
Programs and information could be delivered through a variety of means:
- Technology, electronic media, geocaching; however, infrastructure limitations at the site may be challenging for providing a variety of technologies.
- Tie to the arts, storytelling, and historical readings.
- Tie to Soudan, which would be an opportunity to expand their story.
- Wilderness experiences to teach outdoor skills.
The park could be used as another education venue for schools through interpretive and educational programs, and the school district could be a partner in developing or delivering educational programs. Learning activities at the park could provide another opportunity to work with resorts and local and tribal governments to complement their activities.
Consider a new site and facility between Soudan Underground Mine and Lake Vermilion state parks for historical education and fun learning experiences.
Tourism will be a significant driving force for the Tower-Soudan economy in the future. The park should be a benefit for local businesses, providing increased employment opportunities. Park guests would have more places to go within the area. The park also would be a place for residents to bring guests, particularly for the cities of Tower and Ely. Connectivity to trail systems would link residents to the park. DNR should strive to create a facility that is an attraction 12 months of the year by emphasizing winter, spring, and fall opportunities as well as the summer attractions.
Developing the state park should result in a greater customer base for existing businesses as well as an opportunity for more and different businesses, such as sporting goods and recreation equipment rental stores, and an increased amount of money being spent in the local community. Adding new businesses would also give ‘resorters,’ as well as park visitors, more variety in a day-use experience. A park would give the opportunity for local businesses to provide private concessions and for services in the park, such as setting up camp for users without equipment and guides for land and water activities. A new state park could result in a positive local real estate effect in the general area.
Visitors to the area should have a seamless experience. To accomplish this, consider creating an ongoing Park Advisory Board to include local and tribal government, business, Lake Association, and other appropriate groups. Also consider creating an intergovernmental board to deal with local and emergency issues.
Create a method to train public and private employees about the amenities in the area. Electronic communication technology could be used to update resorts and businesses on park activities and information and vice versa. These are some techniques, among others, that could help develop cooperative understanding of each other’s business.
In order for the local community and the state to benefit from a new state park, we need to ensure that if it is bought, it will be planned, developed, and open to the public in a timely manner. The park should provide an affordable experience for visitors. In addition, the DNR should consider new operations strategies to maximize the use of park facilities, such as rates for longer-term off-season use, and evaluate that strategy for summer use.
A state park on Lake Vermilion should provide a different opportunity for visitors and not duplicate local services. Focus on what is unique about this area—its natural resources and its rich history and culture
There are four major issues for Breitung Township with the proposed state park on Lake Vermilion: property tax base, commercial development, traffic, and the use of Stuntz Bay for a park boat launch.
- The transfer of the property from the private to public ownership could result in the residents of Breitung Township having to make up for a loss in the local tax base. The Task Force recommends that strategies be developed to address this issue.
- Zoning for the City of Soudan and Breitung Township sets the context for the type of economic opportunity that could be developed in the community. Currently there is no commercial zoning in Breitung, but commercial activity is allowed through the Conditional Use Permit process. Residential zoned property would only permit neighborhood commercial, home occupation and home business, but Shoreland Mixed Use and MUNS zoning allow for a greater variety of uses. Still, there is very limited opportunity in Soudan or Breitung Township for commercial development to offset the potential property tax base loss, regardless of zoning options.
- In planning for park development consider the potential for increased traffic and noise, both within local communities and on Highway 169, and find ways to mitigate the negative impacts. Specifically for the City of Soudan, the location of the park entrance is a concern. If it is located in conjunction with Soudan Underground Mine State Park, would the town be able to absorb that much increased traffic? In a recent MnDOT study it was determined that there is excess capacity along Highway 169; however, if park visitation projections are met, existing road capacity will be an issue. The DNR and MnDOT will need to work together to determine what park visitation projections would mean for capacity on Highway 169.
- In determining what kind of access to the lake should be provided and where, there are limitations with the Stuntz Bay location. There is local use that already exists, and there is the recent designation of the boathouses as a National Historic Site. The community needs to be able to continue its access to the lake and boathouses. Using Stuntz Bay as a launching point for the park would result in increased traffic at that site and potential use conflicts. On the other hand, there is the opportunity for making improvements to this location regardless of a state park on Lake Vermilion, such as addressing parking and sanitary facility needs as well as compliance and repair issues regarding the boathouses.
Another broader local community concern is how to address emergency issues at the park. In the majority of instances that might occur at the park, park staff would handle the situation. There could be occasions where local emergency or law enforcement would need to be involved, and it will be necessary for local agencies and the park to share communication and training on how to respond so that everyone is prepared to handle these instances.
In planning for the type of experiences to be offered at a state park on Lake Vermilion, the park should provide a different opportunity for visitors and not duplicate local marina and resort services. Focus on what is unique about this area–its natural resources and its rich history and culture. It will be important to find the right balance regarding park development. Take special care to avoid environmental impacts from lake access development, especially the introduction of invasive species. Providing access to scenic features can sometimes result in degradation of the very thing that attracts visitors to the area. Keep this in mind when designing access opportunities to the site’s sensitive resources.
The Advisory Task Force presented its report to the DNR Commissioner on January 15, 2008. These recommendations for the proposed Lake Vermilion State Park will be used to support a draft park concept plan and request for funding to the 2008 legislature. The Advisory Task Force report will be a source of information for the park’s master planning and resource assessment processes.
For more information about the Commissioner’s Advisory Task Force or the proposed Lake Vermilion State Park contact Courtland Nelson, Director of Parks & Trails at 651.259.5602, email@example.com.