Hubbard County Land Commissioner Chip Lohmeier shared a rough concept for a new county campground on a tax-forfeited tract of land (TFL) between Deer and Shallow lakes.
Meeting with the county board on June 9, Lohmeier said he’s been working with the county Environmental Services Department about development details.
He said, for instance, the number of primitive, tenting-only campsites was narrowed down from 19 to 12 because most of the north shoreline on Shallow Lake has lowland brush unsuitable for campsites.
“We looked at some of the amenities that we’d like to have out there,” he said, such as “a nice day-use, picnic area” on the western point and “carry-in access on both sides of both lakes for canoe or kayak.”
There is a public access on Shallow Lake for boats on County 18, “however, there’s no place to get across to Deer Lake, except through that channel, which is only navigable in high-water situations,” Lohmeier said, adding that boats may not be able to use the channel but kayaks and canoes would work.
Lohmeier said they also reviewed Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) regulations for bathrooms and drinking water. “They have regulations that say you have to have enough restroom facilities that no campsite is more than 400 feet from (them), so that’s going to require two vault toilets out there,” he explained. “Again, the same thing for a potable water source.”
If a well is installed, Lohmeier continued, it would be considered a public water source that would have to be tested on an annual basis by the MDH. The plan calls for three water hydrants, with a total cost of $15,000.
Leveling the ground for 12 campsites is estimated at $10,000. A fire ring and picnic table at each campsite are $1,400 each, for a total $18,000.
Constructing a gravel road would cost about $30,000.
A buried power line already runs through the property, but street lights would be appropriate, Lohmeier said, costing approximately $10,000.
Lohmeier said there are three privately owned parcels nearby, but only one lot is a buildable.
“In order for us to do this, we really would have to acquire all three of those parcels,” he noted, adding that one of them has a “for sale” sign on it. If the county could purchase all three lots for $100,000, then the whole southern shoreline would be available for campsites.
Total development cost of the campground is projected to be $212,700. Lohmeier said there is potential funding through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) outdoor recreation grant program. It is a competitive grant application process.
“It’s a 50 percent match,” Lohmeier noted, with the county responsible for $106,300.
If the campground achieves 30 percent occupancy, like the DNR’s Hungryman and Gulch Lake campgrounds, Lohmeier said it wouldn’t be profitable. Those primitive campgrounds typically charge $14 per night.
County commissioner Tom Krueger disagreed that this campground wouldn’t attract campers, saying, “Location is a big item for any kind of business. This is close to trails. It has excellent access to lakes and it’s close to the Park Rapids and Nevis areas. It’s just my gut feeling on it.”
Lohmeier said a full-time staff member would need to clean the bathrooms daily, plus pick up fees and garbage.
A campground host is another option, said board chair Char Christenson. “I’m looking at this from an economic standpoint,” she continued. “With 12 campers here, even if they only came on the weekends, they’re going to be spending money. Part of this to me, it’s not a moneymaker but it’s getting people into the area to experience ‘up north.’”
Even at 30 percent occupancy, county commissioner David De La Hunt calculated $150,000 being spent in neighboring communities. “If the dollar rotates seven times, you’re talking almost a $1 million economic impact to the area.”
Krueger added, “Some of these people could eventually become property owners themselves, buying lake cabins if they like this area.”
Christenson said the county could probably charge more than $14 due to the campground’s location.
County commissioner Dan Stacey noted that one of the sites may need to be upgraded for a campground host to live there throughout the entire season.
Christenson said her only hesitation was that the county is in a hiring freeze and making budget cuts.
Krueger recommended continuing with planning and including it in next year’s budget.
De La Hunt said a good first step might be to convey the tax-forfeited parcel to the county.
Board consensus was to move forward with the project with the parks and recreation board.