A proposed regional park near Frazee got a big thumbs-up recently from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.
“It’s a big deal,” said Becker County economic Development Coordinator Guy Fischer.
If it comes to fruition, Wannigan Park will serve as a camping area, trailhead and regional park for three major trail systems that go through Frazee -- the North Country National Scenic (hiking) Trail, the Otter Tail River Trail, and the Heartland (paved, multiuse) Trail extension, said former Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke, who sits on the Wannigan Park steering committee. Former Frazee city administrator Denise Anderson also sits on the steering committee and is spearheading the project, he said.
“We submitted a concept plan to see if it would get a high ranking before moving ahead with the master plan,” Ludtke said.
“Your designation application ranked 'High' after a review by our independent Evaluation Team and the Commission,” the parks and trails commission said in a letter to Anderson and Fischer. “This ranking means this facility is now eligible to submit a Master Plan for a comprehensive review, the next step in the process toward regional designation.”
The park would be about 170 acres, with the potential for growth, roughly located between the Frazee High School and the Frazee Country Club golf course. The Otter Tail River runs through the park, which is the site of historic logging and sawmill activity.
According to the concept plan, there would be both seasonal and short-term camping in the park, along with onsite trails, an interpretive center-multi use building, picnic shelters, an amphitheater, and trailheads for the three major river- and land-based trails.
“There’s a lot of opportunity with that park,” Fischer said.
The concept plan also includes canoe and kayak launch points, riverbank fishing, scenic and bird-watching sites, interpretive language and an information kiosk.
Wannigan Park will eventually serve as a connecting point for trails leading to and from Itasca, Maplewood and Buffalo River state parks, as well as Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and other destinations, said Ludtke, who has been working on the concept of Frazee as a trails hub for a dozen years.
Getting high marks from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission should help bring state grant funding to Wannigan Park, Ludtke said, and the Frazee Community Development Commission is being retooled to handle the finances.
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Community Development Commission will change its mission and perhaps make some membership changes to handle the Wannigan Park project.
“We’re hoping for a regional park (designation) but at this point, it’s kind of a city park,” Ludtke said, “and that’s a lot for a city to bite off. That’s why we need a 501(c)3, to deal with the grant possibilities.”
The property owner is holding the land for now, and park supporters will need to “raise the difference between the DNR-appraised value of the property and what the actual cost of the property will be,” Ludtke said.
The next step is improving the existing master plan for the park, a process that is expected to take about a year, Ludtke said.
If all goes as planned, the park will eventually be bringing people into the area from all over.
“We’re helping be a good economic developer for the region,” Ludtke said.