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South Detroit Lake access to expand

The Department of Natural Resources is expanding the South Shore Drive access on Detroit Lakes — whether neighbors like it or not.

“It’s a public access that needed to be rehabilitated and expanded,” said Tony Walzer, DNR Parks and Trails Division acquisition and development specialist.

Wednesday morning, Walzer, who works out of the Bemidji DNR office, and two staff members from the St. Paul DNR Parks and Trails office, presented a preliminary plan and talked with residents to get feedback on the project.

The south access is the only access on Detroit Lake that the DNR owns. And because it is state owned, there are different rules than a city-owned landing.

For example, and one that was discussed Wednesday, is that a city can enforce operating hours on a landing, whereas a state-owned one is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Period.

Neighbors expressed concerns with that because of people coming through yards at all hours, being loud in the middle of the night and just generally being bad neighbors.

The DNR said they realize they need to buffer the parking lot better and plan to make other adjustments to make it better for neighbors.

The lot now has 18 parking spaces — which is shrinking with the addition of a portable AIS washing unit — and the proposed expansion will have 30 spaces. The DNR has already purchased the extra land to expand the parking lot.

Neighbor Chris Cramer said that once Highway 10 was realigned and changes were made at the north access near Holiday Inn, it pushed much of the boat traffic to the south side.

City officials said they didn’t have much choice. The state said the city could either do these changes if the state was going to pay for the project because of the highway realignment, or the launch would be closed all together.

While the residents aren’t pleased with the shift of traffic to the south access, it was best to keep the north access open instead of closing it completely, they said.

The south access was put in around 1988, and at the time, there were no regulations for the launch or handicap accessibility. It was basically a parking lot for boaters, Kent Skaar said.

Skaar is out of the St. Paul office in the Parks and Trails acquisition and development section.

Design offerings

While the plan is still preliminary, the DNR team brought a couple drawings to show how the space is expanded, where parking and ADA facilities will be located and some possible changes to the landing location and an added dock.

Skaar said he doesn’t want to change the location of the ramp simply because of the natural channel that has been created from the boats. If the ramp moved slightly down the beach, that channel would have to be recreated.

Skaar said they would be keeping as many of the trees around the lot as possible, and the large one along the shore. Any within the lot will be coming out and new islands with trees will be planted with the new construction.

They won’t be clearing the shore for multiple reasons. For one, they want a natural look and not a large barren-looking spot from the lake. They plan to put an accessory dock in down the shore from the ramp for those who have issues with their boat and need to pull over instead of using a private neighborhood dock.

Another reason they don’t want to clear the land: “This is a boat access and it needs to be a boat access. It is not a swimming beach,” Skaar said.

Pelican River Watershed District Administrator Tera Guetter suggested recycling facilities and garbage cans in the parking lot, too, because it would help clean up the lake and launching area.

Skaar said that the state has no plans for garbage cans because “the minute we put one out, we get a mattress, a stove, a used car.”

He said an arrangement could be made with the city or county to have someone come pick up the trash once a week, but the state won’t be doing that.

Other possibilities

The DNR purchased some land on the other side of the Holiday Inn with the intention of building another public boat access but “the individual who owns the two houses declined the state’s offer,” Skaar said.

He said unless the landowner changes his mind and more land is acquired in the future, a boat launch is out of the question there, but instead it will possibly be used as a trailhead for the Heartland Trail when it gets to Detroit Lakes.

Some audience members asked if, instead of the money to upgrade the south access, the state could use those funds to build a new launch in another location.

They suggested the Voyageur Lanes bowling alley area as a prime location.

While that location isn’t out of the question, Skaar said that the south shore project has been approved and will be done. There could be another project in the future though, like the bowling alley location or somewhere else.

“These are not inexpensive projects,” Skaar said of landings.

He roughly estimated the cost to expand the south access would be about $200,000 for construction, not including the land purchased.

Skaar said the funding will come from one or two of three sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Coast Guard or the state’s Water Recreation Account.

The parking lot will include more paved space for trucks and trailers, but it will also include an area that is packed gravel covered with grass to be natural but usable for overflowing parking when needed.

The plan also includes more screening from the neighbors and a spot designated for the AIS wash station.

It also includes a buoy system to guide boaters coming off the lake to enter the ramp in the same channel rather than coming in from the side and eroding neighbor’s lakeshore.

Resident Dick Hecock suggested that there be a comprehensive study done on the lake and the needs to determine how big the access should be and if there needs to be more around the lake rather than expanding this one.

“I see this not as data driven but policy driven,” he said of the south access project.

“I would guess that use per acre (on Detroit Lake) is much higher than the average lake.”

The DNR plans to take the preliminary plans and comments from neighbors and come up with a plan for the south access. Once a plan is in place, they plan to hold a public meeting for more comment.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.