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Big Sand public access improvements being studied

This house would be purchased for $399,000 and demolished to expand the southeast public access on Big Sand Lake. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
The access would be expanded to the left of this photo. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

By Sarah Smith

An enhanced public access on Big Sand Lake is drawing some public attention.

That’s exactly what the DNR wants. Until the end of this month, the agency is soliciting comments from the public on the Grouse Road proposal that would expand the access to the southeast end of the lake.

The DNR is eyeing a piece of property near the existing access for expansion, said David Schotzko, DNR Area Supervisor for the Parks and Trails Division.

A home next to the access is on the market for $399,000. If an appraisal is favorable, the DNR would purchase the property with monies from boat licenses.

“It would come from the boating community,” Schotzko said. “Kayakers, canoeists and boaters.”

In the past the DNR has used The Trust for Public Land as a funding source.

“We have all kinds of different pots of money we go after, Legacy, the Trust. More than likely it’s going to come from the boating fund,” Schotzko added.

“It could be months out,” he said. “We have an option and at the end of it I guess we’ll have to exercise it. We have a lot of different grants and things we can pull money from. It’s a big juggling act. We get federal money and other things.”

Schotzko said before any purchase, the DNR will have the property appraised.

“We base our decisions on the appraisal,” he said.

“We really haven’t been pursuing a site on that lake because we already have access. Years ago our division bought another site a half mile away on the lake.

“We went and looked at that a while ago and it was all swamp. Looking at the file, the DNR had planned to fill a bunch of swampland when they bought it 15 years ago, then all these wetland laws and environmental things were becoming prominent. Because the site is a majority swamp, we don’t feel it would be the environmentally right things to do” (fill and mitigate the swampland.)

“This other site came up right next to the (Grouse Road access) and that’s something we prefer to do if we have an existing site. Then we don’t need two toilets, we don’t need two ramps” and crews don’t have to maintain two sites, he explained.

He said safety is the key reason to expand the access.

“Right now when people have to pull down there, tee up their boat on that sharp curve, and with invasives, there’s no place to pull off and make sure those are cleaned off your boat,” Schotzko said.

“With the runoff coming out of the lake when people pull out, the stuff just runs back into the lake,” he said of the drainage issues.

The improved site will have catch basins and sediment basins to divert runoff from the site. It will have an expanded parking lot, a double concrete plank ramp with floating docks and other amenities.

The other site could be sold or kept as a natural area to buffer any development or to promote the fisheries division.

It would take legislation to sell riparian land, he said.

Two residents called the Enterprise to voice their disapproval of the purchase.

“We’re in a budget crunch,” said Rich Jacobson. “Where in the world will they get $400,000?”

That call mirrored one from a woman who declined to be named for this story. She questioned whether the expenditures were necessary in an economy that is struggling to regain momentum.

The tiny access site is rarely used, both said.

“That’s a sleepy little landing,” Jacobson pointed out. There’s never any traffic jam or people waiting in line.”

Jacobson wonders how the DNR “can buy a wonderful house and then tear it down. I don’t have an axe to grind with the DNR,” he said.

He said he doesn’t see the purchase as fitting within the DNR’s mission to protect the state’s waters, especially from invasive species.

“If they truly want everybody in Minnesota to come to this lake, it ensures that” Big Sand’s waters will become infested quicker.

The plan is tentatively scheduled for the 2015 construction season.

What bothers Jacobson more is that the land purchase “is not the start of it.”

Only partially in jest, he questioned whether a Ferris wheel, a midway and concessions stand would follow.

The finished project’s total costs could be quite large, he worries. Land purchase and demolition could cost half a million, he suggested.

In his 22 years on the lake, Jacobson said he’s never seen much use of the access.

Comments are being taken until Oct. 31. They can be sent to Schotzko at 3296 State Park Road NE, Bemidji, MN 56601 or emailed to

Sarah Smith

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

(218) 732-3364