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La Salle Lake recreation area planning continues

The campground has 40 sites that have recently been equipped with electricity. Some have a stunning view of Lake La Salle.

As summer arrives in the north woods, Minnesota's newest state park is getting off to a deliberately slow start.

La Salle Lake State Recreation Area quietly opened a few campsites for the fishing opener last month.

The DNR is making improvements as agency officials continue to explore the land's potential.

And the consensus is not to tamper or tinker with much of it.

"This is such a jewel," said Shelley Becklund, who oversees the region's Scientific and Natural Areas. Those are the most pristine of the designations the DNR confers on valuable lands with a high priority of preserving.

La Salle's SRA contains an area designated as an SNA, across Hubbard County Road 9 from the main park area and lake.

DNR officials are starting the administrative process to allow some additional activities on this tract of land. Generally SNAs are left alone. The public can visit them, but they have no designated trails, no amenities and no park facilities.

SNAs are for nature observation, education and research activities.

With La Salle, the DNR would like to designate an existing footpath as an interpretive trail and add an outlook. The path runs north through a grassy field up to an overlook of the confluence of the Mississippi River and La Salle Creek. A small parking lot would accommodate cars.

Currently the agency is taking public comments and suggestions.

The plan is for hunting, fishing and trapping, watercraft access, non-commercial berry picking and to allow dogs on the land that are either trained for hunting or on a leash. To accomplish this, a 30-day public comment period goes into effect.

A Citizens Advisory Council has been meeting with DNR and Itasca State Park officials, providing them with a rich history of the 990 acres, its flora and fauna and potential for various uses.

That has only solidified the DNR's desire to keep the land as pristine as it was when the state acquired it in 2011.

Long range plans for the SNA include planting native grasses and restoring a jackpine population to the area, said Chris Weir-Koetter, DNR strategic planner.

It will take careful management to plan a fire dependent community of trees, she said.

Across County Road 9, white pines will be planted.

Fishing guide Terry Larson attended Tuesday night's open house at Itasca State Park, along with other citizens who came to ask questions and propose activities for the park.

Not a single person favored paved trails, boat accesses that would accommodate large watercraft or more cabins.

Like Larson, most want the park left as is.

But Larson would like to see canoe or kayak excursions up and down the creek and river.

"It could be a challenge in low water years," he said of taking a canoe up the waterways. But a kayak will get around just fine.

Weir-Koetter, who recently kayaked the creek with other DNR employees, agreed.

"It got pretty shallow in some spots," she said.

She also joined DNR employees on ATVs to see what the trails looked like. The DNR has already had to fence off a snowmobile trail that was off-limits to all-terrain vehicles, but riders used it anyway.

"There's been a few problems," Weir-Koetter acknowledged.

Some other trails could use signage so ATV riders know how to access them, she said.

A slow steady approach to upgrades is planned. The campgrounds have been wired for electricity, the handicapped ramps are in place to comport with state law, and facilities left vacant are now getting upkeep.

Now all the park needs is visitors. Not a soul was seen Tuesday, no campers, no renters, no trail enthusiasts.

And even though the DNR is taking a low-key approach, vacancies weren't part of the plan.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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