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La Salle Lake SRA holds open house

The state's newest park in Fern Township has rugged scenery and pristine waters and forests. Area residents were invited by the DNR Thursday to share their thoughts for the park's identity and future, to formulate a 20-year strategic plan of operations. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Lori Dowling2 / 2

It seemed the essence of Minnesota Nice that its newest state park held an open house for the neighborhood, serving hot apple cider and chocolate chip cookies.

But mostly folks were invited for their opinions on how La Salle Lake's State Recreation Area should be managed and who it should serve.

"We want to keep this unique lakeshore intact," said Lori Dowling, northwest regional director of the DNR in Bemidji.

Public input and a project team will put together a 20-year "strategic vision" for the SRA.

"We want to determine the best purpose to serve the locals and the state park system," Dowling said.

The state acquired 268.7 acres of pristine wooded lands and the deep lake northeast of Itasca State Park earlier this year, purchased from the late developer John Zacher, who died last week in a helicopter crash.

It will be Zacher's legacy that he and his partners sold the land to the Legacy Fund, which purchased it for the DNR, many of the locals agreed at Thursday's open house.

"I don't foresee big changes," Dowling said.

La Salle Lake, at 221 acres and 18,600 feet of shoreline, is said to be one of the deepest in Minnesota, at 213 feet.

"I'm tickled purple," said former Doyle's Resort owner Beverly Aultman.

"My whole family is."

She and son Steve relayed the stories of owning the 6-acre resort on the lake's north shore in the 1950s. The Hugh Cooper family owned the rest of the lakeshore and passed the property down through generations, she said.

Bob Cooper eventually bought the Aultman parcel and sold to Zacher.

Then Zacher put it into public hands.

Many of the three dozen who attended the open house looked over the topographical maps displayed and reminisced about hunting, trapping, logging and fishing the area.

And their comments to the DNR were to be allowed to continue those activities.

A portion of the SRA has been dedicated as an SNA (Scientific and Natural Area) to preserve unique plants and animals.

"Here's where I saw those Indian pipes," Becida resident Stan Grdinich told a crowd gathered around a map. He was pointing to the SNA on the north side of the lake.

Grdinich photographed the unique white flowers and sent the picture to the Enterprise last summer.

The park is big enough to accommodate a variety of users, Dowling said, but that ultimate decision will be up to the public and a "multi-disciplined" committee of DNR departments, including law enforcement, fisheries, wildlife, trails, forestry and ecowaters.

"There has been a big interest in fishing," Dowling said, which will be a priority.

Many locals have said the lake used to house a significant trout population and Dowling acknowledged the DNR will study that.

The new park doesn't have many amenities and that's OK for now, Dowling said.

It has a campground, a laundry and sanitation facility and an indoor pool with a large indoor recreation area and kitchen for large gatherings. That's where the open house was held.

Three all-season rental cabins were built by the developers and Aultmans' original house remains.

Renovations to those facilities will be made this winter so they can be rented in 2012.

Numerous outbuildings can be used for storage.

It will be run as an adjunct of Itasca, but Itasca manager Matt Snyder is leaving to manage a park in South Dakota, so his replacement will need to be hired.

The DNR envisions use for hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, bird watching and water activities. The trails can accommodate snowmobiles, ATVs, bikes and foot traffic. Geocaching will be offered as soon as wireless broadband communications are available.

You can go to the DNR website ( and search "LaSalle." You can then add your comments to those solicited Thursday night.