If all goes according to plan, Douglas County will be developing a little more than 8 acres of land at Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida into a county park with a swimming beach as its main component.

At the Tuesday, Sept. 1, Douglas County Board meeting, commissioners approved the purchase of 4.2 acres at a cost of $1 million with an additional 4 acres to be donated.

This map shows the location of the land that Douglas County would be purchasing and acquiring through a donation if a joint purchase agreement for Pilgrim Point is approved. The county would purchase 4.2 acres and receive another 4 acres through a donation from Pilgrim Point Shores, LLC, the developers in the joint purchase agreement.
This map shows the location of the land that Douglas County would be purchasing and acquiring through a donation if a joint purchase agreement for Pilgrim Point is approved. The county would purchase 4.2 acres and receive another 4 acres through a donation from Pilgrim Point Shores, LLC, the developers in the joint purchase agreement.

The commissioners signed a joint purchase agreement with Pilgrim Point Shores LLC, the group that wants to develop the property. Pilgrim Point Shores is owned by Mark and Jill Swanson and three other family members – Jill’s dad, brother and sister. The Swansons live on Lake Ida and own His & Her’s Ceramic Tile Inc.

The joint purchase agreement is expected to be presented to the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ, which owns the 46-acre church camp, and if the offer is accepted, the closing will happen yet this fall.

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The church decided to sell the camp on Lake Ida in early 2019. Pilgrim Point Camp on Lake Ida had been in operation since the late 1950s.

The county would be directly purchasing the 4.2 acres from the church with the developers purchasing the rest of the acreage. After one year and one day the developers can then legally donate the 4 acres to the county. However, according to the agreement between the county and the developers, the county would have immediate access to the whole 8.2 acres as soon as the purchase is finalized.

Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk holds a map of Pilgrim Point as Dave Rush, Land and Resource Management director, points out the county's portion of property that could soon be owned by the county to Douglas County Commissioners Heather Larson and Keith Englund. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press).
Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk holds a map of Pilgrim Point as Dave Rush, Land and Resource Management director, points out the county's portion of property that could soon be owned by the county to Douglas County Commissioners Heather Larson and Keith Englund. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press).

Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush went through some other key parts of the purchase agreement as well as the development agreement with the commissioners prior to their approval.

Rush explained that the development group would build a public road and bike trail leading to the park and that the county would take care of the paving and eventual maintenance as it would be a county road and a public trail.

He said the county recognizes the generous gift of the land and that the county’s portion of the property is unique and a treasure and that it will definitely become a public space.

He did not go through every point of the multi-page documents, but just highlighted a few, including that after the closing of the property, the county would have possession of all 8.2 acres which gives them the ability to use it and prepare it for public use.

According to Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk, the county was in negotiations with the church early on, but then this past July, Pilgrim Point Shores came into the picture and offered to go in on a joint purchase of the property.

Jill and Mark Swanson said that because they knew the church didn’t want the property to be fully developed and not accessible to the public, they decided to go in on the joint venture with the county. They said they have such a passion for the lake and knew that they, too, wanted a part of the property to be accessible to the public.

“Now, everyone can enjoy it and we can still develop it,” said Mark after the meeting.

Mark said it was his dream to move to the Alexandria lakes area to live full time and that in 2005, they ended up building their home on Lake Ida. And now, to be able to own and develop land, along with the possibility of building a new home on Pilgrim Point is the “ultimate dream” and beyond what he could have ever imagined, he said.

Jill said if it wasn’t for Mark’s grandpa moving to the area in 1963, they wouldn’t have developed such a passion for the area and Lake Ida. Jill added that she was just a “farm girl” from the Twin Cities before she married into the family. She also credits her dad for helping them form the limited liability company and making their dream turn into a reality.

“He knows how much we love the lake,” said Jill.

Sue Palmquist with Edina Realty, who is Mark’s sister, will be handling the sale of the property. The county has been working with Alexandria attorney Scott Johnston to write up the agreements for the county and Pilgrim Point Shores.

The couple agreed that the agreement with the county is a win-win for all parties involved.

Pilgrim Point, located on the east side of Lake Ida, was a camp owned by the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ. The 46-acre church camp had been in operation since the late 1950s. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)
Pilgrim Point, located on the east side of Lake Ida, was a camp owned by the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ. The 46-acre church camp had been in operation since the late 1950s. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Bonk said the joint purchase agreement accomplishes what the county set out to do in the first place, which is use the property for a county park with a swimming beach as the predominant use.

“If everything goes right, we’ll do a park plan this winter to figure out how to lay it all out,” said Bonk, adding that there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to voice their wishes on what they would like to see at the park. He said there would be an open house and a survey would eventually be available.

He said there would be no road access in 2021, but that the park and the swimming beach could possibly open in 2022.