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Menahga City Council exploring seasonal campsite options

The Menahga City Council is analyzing the possibility of adding eight seasonal campsites at its Memorial Forest Park and Campground. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

The Menahga City Council is considering developing eight seasonal campsites at its Memorial Forest Campground.

They held a special meeting March 13 to discuss the possibilities.

City Administrator Janette Bower, Utilities Supervisor Frank Thelin and former city council member Roger Henstorf shared their findings about other seasonal sites in the area, amenities that are typically offered, what Menahga's city campground could provide as well as preliminary cost estimates.

Their research found that seasonal sites in Perham, Park Rapids, Nevis, Battle Lake and Huntersville are full and there's demand for additional sites.

Amenities range from heated pools with cement patios to basic electrical hook-up. Rates varied from $1,700 up to $2,400 per year.

Mayor Patrick Foss said he's noticed seasonal campsites when he's driving around.

"It seems to me there's more and more of these places popping up," he said. "Some of them out in the middle of a pasture, nowhere near anything."

Menahga's existing campground, located along Highway 71 south, covers 40 acres. The park offers about 25 campsites, half of which have both electrical hook-ups and water, Thelin said. A few are primitive campsites and the rest have electricity, but no water. There are two sheltered pavilions, a shower house and other picnic facilities. The city's swimming beach is one-quarter mile away on Spirit Lake.

"Another thing I discovered in doing research last spring, our fees at our park are way under what they should be. We are really down. I was surprised," Henstorf said. "Most parks are charging $20, $25, $30 or more [per site]. We charge $15, $20 or $25."

Councilmember Tim Ellingson asked if current clientele had requested seasonal campsites.

Bower reported that two people paid long-term fees last summer and treated Memorial Forest Campground as their base while touring the area.

"We do get questions if we have it," she said.

Foss said he's spoken to campground guests over the years.

"It seems to me there's a need, partly because I've talked to a lot of people. Sixty to 70 percent of them would stay longer. They would stay all year long, if they could," he said. "I just see it as positive. Something we've tried to do over last several years is to make it a place people want to come to. If we get people a chance to live here three or four months, I see a lot of possibilities."

The Menahga Memorial Forest Campground could offer full water, sewer and electrical hook-ups, cable TV, wireless internet, restrooms with showers, volleyball court, walking trails and quick access to groceries, propane, gas and the lake. Bower, Thelin and Henstorf suggested a seasonal contract price of $2,500 per year, plus electricity.

If all eight campsites are rented, the city would earn $20,000 in income per year.

Henstorf recommended placing the seasonal campsites at the north end of the park

"They would be isolated from the other campground. If you're coming into a seasonal site, you don't want a bunch of kids screaming and hollering and volleyball and so forth."

They roughly estimated the cost of dirt work/road upgrades at $15,000; sewer lines $14,000; water lines $16,000; electric lines at $16,500 and installation/infrastructure for bulk cable TV and internet infrastructure at $13,500. Preliminary estimates total $75,000.

Bower said there are funds available from the city's reserves or a loan from the general fund to the park fund. The city's financial firm would need to set up an amortization schedule, she said.

Councilmember Maxine McNeece said she'd like to see a marketing plan drawn up with written goals and timelines.

"My point is, I don't want to see the attitude 'built it and they will come,' but rather be proactive and have a marketing plan," she said.

Foss suggested upgrading all the campsites if it was doable, but Henstorf said a few private sites should remain without electricity for those who just want to set up a tent.

Henstorf said he hopes friends and family will join seasonal campers at the campground.

Councilmember Craig Lawrey inquired about site management.

Once rented, Henstorf explained, mowing the lot would be the renter's responsibility.

"I really like this idea and really think it could be an economic driver," said McNeece, but before approving it she said she would need see more specs and detailed plans. "At the same time, I'd like to see us seek out other funding sources."

McNeece further recommended establishing a safer path from the campsites to the city beach, so guests and children don't have to walk along Highway 71.

The council approved a motion to pursue more details on the expansion project. It passed unanimously 4-0, with Councilmember Dennis Komulainen absent.

Planning commission

The council confirmed the mayor's three appointments to the City of Menahga Planning Commission.

Last month, the city announced two vacancies on the planning commission. Since then, two residents — Larry Karjala and Sam Kicker — have agreed to serve three-year terms.

Foss appointed Tim Ellingson to represent the city council for one year.

McNeece recommended paying commissioners a stipend for their work and setting a three-year term limit, similar to the Greenwood Connections advisory board.

"Our ordinance language is from 1957 — 60 years ago. The comprehensive plan needs review, so it's a huge job," she said.

In addition, McNeece said they should get a League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) facilitator to train both the city council and planning commission. She, for instance, downloaded a 29-page memorandum on planning and zoning from the LMC website.

"It's only fair, if we ask people to do a big job, we give them the tools to do it," McNeece said. "They're complicated issues."

Bower said she will present a revised ordinance at next month's council meeting regarding stipends and term limits. She will contact LMC about training opportunities as well.

In other business, the council did the following:

• Authorized a five-year contract with Johnson Jet-Line, Inc. to clean and televise 12,500 feet of city sewer pipelines each year. The city has approximately 62,500 feet total. The cost of the service is $13,125 per year. According to Thelin, the service is vital maintenance and helps identify any issues within the pipes. The Kensington, Minn. company will also provide a map of all the service lines and manholes throughout the city.

• Discussed replacing aging boilers at the city's nursing home. The boilers are at least 52 years old. Three quotes were received, but did not meet a minimum threshold of $307,000 for "moratorium exception projects." The threshold is required by Minnesota Statute. Greenwood Connections Administrator Laura Ahlf will seek quotes on emergency generators and other repairs to reach the minimum amount.

• Approved a $725 endowment pledge to the Initiative Foundation. McNeece noted that the foundation was a great resource for facilitators and grants, plus they paid for one-third of Menahga's Business, Retention and Expansion Program.

• Authorized a performance agreement for $2,950 with SSCB. The band will perform at Northbound Spirits during the Mid-Summer Celebration. Liquor Store Manager Renata Parks said the band was well received last year and agreed to return in 2017.

• Accepted a $4,745 grant from the Five Wings Arts Council for the "Sounds of Spirit Lake" concert series. The Gateway Lions Club also donated $5,000 for the summer program.

• Authorized a performance agreement, at a cost of $3,000, with "Monroe Crossing." The bluegrass group will perform at "Sounds of Spirit Lake."

• Awarded the $2,607 bid for the 2011 Crown Victoria squad car to Chicago Motors. Bower said it was the only one received and met the $2,500 minimum bid requirement.

• Approved the purchase of two mowers from Trout's Service and Repair. The Hustler Fastrak 48-inch mower ($5,456) will primarily be used for the city park, beach and cemetery. The 60-inch Hustler SuperZ ($10,560) will be used at the sewer ponds. Both have a 4-year/400-hour warranty.

• Approved the hiring of Derek Huotari as a part-time police officer.

The next regular council meeting is 7 p.m. on Monday, April 10 at Menahga City Hall.