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Public access on Big Sand Lake will be St. Paul decision

DNR Parks and Trails Supervisor Dave Schotzko goes over the access plans with Big Mantrap Lake resident Sue Ryan at an open forum Tuesday night. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

aBy Sarah Smith

It is doubtful a second open house made believers out of the non-believers or vice versa, but a controversial public access enlargement on Big Sand Lake seems to be slowly moving forward.

The final decision will be made at DNR headquarters, said local DNR officials, sometime in the future.

Tuesday, around three dozen citizens showed up, mistakenly believing DNR officials would make a presentation on the project that has received thumbs down from the lake association and several lake residents.

But the DNR uses a “divide and conquer” strategy, speaking one-to-one with citizens and laying out plans on various tables, answering questions and concerns as they come up.

The public comment period, in writing, expired Oct. 31. But even though the 75 comments submitted were overwhelmingly negative, DNR Parks and Trails Supervisor David Schotzko said public sentiment is swinging toward improving the access.

Preliminary plans were distributed at the open house, which Schotzko says will likely be revised more than once as the process moves forward.

The current plan is to purchase a home next to the current access off Grouse Road and use the property to expand the access, make it handicapped accessible and install a dock.

The plan has some powerful supporters, including COLA president Dan Kittilson, Hubbard County Water Quality Specialist Nate Sitz and members of the Park Rapids Bass League.

Professional anglers say they cannot guide clients onto the lake because of the difficulty of launching at the access. There’s no room to turn a large boat around once it’s launched and elderly clients can’t jump into a guide’s boat from shore without risking injury.

The access also has been used as a swimming hole, making it hazardous for kids and anglers alike.

Opponents, also a powerful group of lake association members and property owners, don’t want boat traffic increased due to a more streamlined launch. That increases the potential of getting Aquatic Invasive Species on the lake, they maintain. The funds spent to do the project, mentioned anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, would be better used directly on the war against AIS, hiring inspectors and policing live wells at the launch site, opponents say.

Tuesday evening, rumblings of a class war began at Northwoods Bank, where the open house was held.

Some proponents suggested that Big Sand residents, having the highest property values in the county, were being elitist in not wanting public fishing on their lake.

The residents counter that sparse use of the public access doesn’t justify the expenditure of funds.

The discussion has been civil to date, and the DNR hopes that presentations like Tuesday’s will soothe the naysayers and result in a collective kumbaya moment.

Sarah Smith

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

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