As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I have vivid memories of Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida.
I remember a friend of my family who would take us on speedboat rides out to the point where there would always be huge flocks of seagulls, gently bobbing up and down in the shallow waves.
Sometimes, just for fun (and don’t do this, by the way), our friend would charge those gulls with the boat and we’d all watch them take off in a wall of white flapping wings. More than 50 years later, that image is as clear to me as Lake Ida’s water.
In the 1970s and 1980s, after our family bought a lot on the lake, I remember boating out to the point with friends too many times to count. It was neat to beach our boat on shore and show them this stretch of beautiful property that was lush with trees, bushes and velvety sand.
Although we knew a church owned the property and used it as a youth camp, we treated it as our own secluded oasis. Aside from a small group of other boaters from time to time, it was quiet and peaceful out there. And the sand was perfect for building sandcastles or just squishing your toes into.
One of the coolest things about going to the point was taking a short walk out on the sandbar to the middle of the lake. We’d stand there in the ankle-deep water, sipping on a beverage, watching the seagulls overhead and taking in the 360-degree view of nothing but lake all around us. We joked that we felt like Jesus walking on water.
Decades later, the church that owned Pilgrim Point started discouraging people from gathering at the point. And they had every right to do that. It was private land, after all, and the groups that started gathering there became larger and larger and more disrespectful of the property. The church had the right to protect their land from trespassers.
Now Pilgrim Point is moving into a new era. This past December, Douglas County purchased 8.2 acres of Pilgrim Point for $2 million with $1 million of that money being donated. It’s converting the land into a county park.
When people think about parks, they envision green grass, some trees, maybe a few picnic tables. But parks have a lot more potential than that and county leaders know it. They’re seeking the public’s ideas on how to use this beautiful piece of land.
Imagine Pilgrim Point with a playground, beach area, picnic shelters, restrooms, interactive mazes, games and sculptures, fire pits, a fishing pier, a water bottle-filling station and public art.
Those are some of the options the county is considering and it wants residents to weigh in. The county put together an online survey, now closed, and to the public's credit, the response was very good, drawing more than 500 participants.
The results will be reviewed with county commissioners soon. Residents who were unable to access the survey can still share feedback by calling their commissioner directly or the parks division at 320-762-2966.
In an Echo Press story, Park Superintendent Brad Bonk said he wants to make sure every single resident in the county has a chance to comment. “We are hoping all of our residents have the opportunity to help us make the best choices for Pilgrim Point,” Bonk said.
The county plans to remove old structures and construct a parking lot and entrance in 2021. The goal is to have the park open for swimming and picnicking in 2022.
I hope residents take an active role in what this new park will look like and are as excited as I am to see Pilgrim Point’s transformation and the crystal-clear memories it will create.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.