Not everyone is happy about the proposed county park at Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida

Concerns with the process and whether Douglas County is following the rules with its ordinances to an increase in traffic, loss of trees, safety and more have been shared with the newspaper by residents who live in the area.

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Some trees have been removed from Pilgrim Point and buildings are being torn down and removed in preparation of a proposed county park and development. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

A proposed new county park on Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida is ruffling some feathers of nearby neighbors. Concerns with the process and whether the county is following the rules with its ordinances to an increase in traffic, loss of trees, safety and more have been shared with the newspaper by residents who live in the area.

Kevin Weber, who lives along Pilgrim Point Road, which is now known as County Road 116, is frustrated with the whole process. Speaking on behalf of just himself and not the whole neighborhood, Weber questioned why he or his neighbors have not been given any notification on the process and why there have not been any public hearings on the project.

“We’re all just patiently waiting for a notification to show up in our mailbox,” he said. “The county purchased the property and have been moving full steam ahead.”

He said work seems to have already started on the property with the removal of hundreds of trees, which he was not too happy about as he said it is taking away wildlife.


Pilgrim Point map
This map shows the location of the land at Pilgrim Point that Douglas County purchased and will be turning into a county park. (Forum Design Center)

“This county park has been stuffed down our throats,” said Weber. “The county seems to be putting the cart before the horse and the damage is already done. There have been no notifications to anyone. People are not happy. The county has gone about this backwards.”

Weber also mentioned that he really doesn’t have any issues with development in general, but that he adamantly objects to the county park and what the developer did to the property without going through the proper channels and processes to begin the work.

He said he contacted a couple of county commissioners, but that “they didn’t give me any good answers” when he questioned the process. Weber said he has also been in contact with Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush. Weber and another resident in the area, met with Rush, as well as had phone conversations and email conversations with him. Needless to say, Weber said they were both frustrated.

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Buildings are being removed from the Pilgrim Point, which at one time was a church camp. Douglas County purchased some of the land for a part and Pilgrim Point Shores purchased the rest of the Pilgrim Point land to develop the land. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Process explained

Rush, along with Public Works Director Tim Erickson and Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk, sat down with the newspaper and explained the process for the park.


Bonk said the county first had to purchase the land. It bought an 8.2 acre piece of Pilgrim Point for $2 million with half of that money – $1 million – coming in the form of a cash donation from Gene Hauer who lives in the Twin Cities metro area. Hauer’s family, including his daughter and son-in-law, Jill and Mark Swanson who live on Lake Ida, owns Pilgrim Point Shores LLC. Pilgrim Point Shores purchased the rest of the Pilgrim Point land and will be developing the land.

Once the property was bought, the parks department started the process of developing a master plan. It held a public open house for the project last month and has also summoned public comment through a survey about the park. Bonk said out of the more than 600 responses, about 97% were in favor of the park.

Dave Rush

Once the master plan is finished, it will be presented to the county commissioners for approval.

If approved, then Bonk takes the plan and applies for a conditional use permit, which will first go before the Douglas County Planning Commission and then back to the Douglas County Board.

Rush further explained that in order to apply for a conditional use permit, a plan has to be in place to show the planning commission what will be taking place. The property owned by the county for the park is in the residential shoreland zoning district, which allows, according to county ordinance, parks and playgrounds. However, parks and playgrounds are only permitted through the approval of the conditional use permit.

Once the conditional use permit is applied for, the planning commission fits it into its schedule and a public hearing is set.


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Part of Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida is being cleared out in preparation of a new county park. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

According to county ordinance and statute, letters at that point are mailed out to residents who live one-quarter of a mile away from the boundary of the land where the project in the conditional use permit is being proposed. Rush said the letters have to be postmarked at least 10 days prior to the public hearing for the conditional use permit.

In addition, Rush said at least 10 days prior to the hearing, a public notice with the agenda for the planning commission meeting is published in the paper of record, which in the case of Douglas County, is the Echo Press.

Erickson said most often, landowners are not contacted until a plan is developed – not approved, but developed – because there needs to be answers for the questions that will arise.

Rush also noted that work can be done on the property without the approval of the permit. Trees can be trimmed, lawns can be mowed, buildings can be moved, garbage can be picked up, he said.

“We have the ability to maintain the land,” said Rush.

As for the removal of the trees, Rush said many of them were taken out because they couldn’t move the buildings without cutting the trees. Plus, the trees needed to be removed to make way for the road.


Proposed bike path

Pat Vickerman, who owns a farm that borders County Road 116 on the south side as well as farmland that borders what was once Pilgrim Point Camp.

She said the farm was homesteaded in 1876 and that her children are the sixth generation to live on the farm, which is why it means so much to her and her family.

“My concern about the park and development is the rumor I have heard that they are going to put a bike path on my side of the road and have already surveyed it,” said Vickerman in an email to the newspaper. “As of today, I have not been notified that this is happening.”

She questioned how the county could do that.

Vickerman also said she has not received any notice about the park or the development that is being proposed.

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Some work has started at Pilgrim Point, which includes trimming and cutting down trees, as well as tearing down buildings. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

“I am concerned about the woods I own and the people and trash that will come with a bike path,” she said. “I live by the public access on the south side, so I know what it is like to have people use and abuse your property.”


Erickson said that although there are plans and the county intends to build a bike path along County Road 116, no work has been done thus far.

“Zero surveys have been conducted for this road,” he said.

Erickson said landowners are not contacted until a plan or information is in place, such as the size of the path, the cost of the path and information needed about acquiring the right-of-way such as an appraisal of the land to determine what it would cost the county to acquire the parcel(s) of land.

Happy about park, not development

Peggy Brakken, who with her two sisters, Ellen Brakken and Dr. Jane Brakken, owns lakeshore property near Pilgrim Point, behind Weber, said she is very much in favor of the park, but has concerns about the development going in and the loss of trees and native flowers and grasses.

She said she appreciates the county and the work they have done to acquire the land and build the park, she just wishes it would have been more land or even the whole property.

Brakken said the family’s property has been in her family for many years as her great grandfather homesteaded the property. In fact, much of her father’s side of the family owns land around Pilgrim Point and said it is a special spot and a treasure for her and her siblings to still have the property.

With the proposed development and the building of the park, Brakken does have some concerns about the traffic. However, she did say that traffic was also an issue when Pilgrim Point was operated as a church camp.

An item that made her feel better was that the speed limit on County Road 116 was recently changed.


Tim Erickson

Erickson said that the road was deemed as a rural residential district road by the road authority, which back in April was Ida Township. By statute, because of how the road was zoned, the road authority did not have to do a speed study on the road. It could just change it from the previous 55 miles per hour to what it is posted at now, which is 35 mile per hour.

Since that time, the county has taken over the road and is now the road authority. Erickson said it will remain a 35-mile-per-hour road.

What's next?

Bonk explained that once the master plan for the park is complete, he will bring it forward to the commissioners, which he expects will happen sometime in June. If they approve the plan, then he will start the conditional use permit process. He expects that to go before the planning commission in late July or early August. At that meeting will be the public hearing where people can express their concerns to the planning commission, which will take the concerns under advisement.

Brad Bonk

Regardless if the planning commissioner approves or denies the application, it will still go before the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, who have the final say. It will probably not get to the board until late August or maybe even September, said Bonk.

Prior the planning commission meeting is when notices will go out to landowners.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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