Elbow Lake uproar over proposed 49-unit RV campground

“If this gets approved, where does it stop?” asked one property owner. “What’s the limit on projects of this type?”

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Elbow Lake residents showed up at the Becker County Board meeting Tuesday, July 20, 2021 to voice concern about a proposed RV campground on the lake. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

A proposed RV resort on Elbow Lake has generated a wave of protest from lakeshore owners, and ran into some resistance from the Becker County Board on Tuesday, July 20.

Joey Stahl of Amenia, N.D., owns about 50 acres on and near Elbow Lake and requested a conditional use permit to put in a 49-unit RV park there. Elbow Lake is in Becker County on the White Earth Reservation, roughly centered between White Earth Village, Ponsford and Naytahwaush.

The RV park would be located next to the Jolly Fisherman resort, on the upper part of the long, narrow lake. It would be open each year from fishing opener to Oct. 1.

Anne Buelow, owner of the Jolly Fisherman Resort, spoke against the RV park at the County Board meeting Tuesday. “We’re not worried about competition,” she said. “We’re worried about losing our guests, some have been coming for over 30 years. They come to Elbow Lake for the peace and quiet.” That’s why Jolly Fisherman does not allow guests to use personal watercraft or ATVs.


She is concerned about traffic and the disruption that could come with a large RV resort, especially if it is not carefully managed by on-site staff.

Those who know and love the area “will truly understand the impact such a development will have on Elbow Lake,” she said.

A neighbor on the other side of the proposed RV park agreed. “This is just so out of place on Elbow Lake,” he said.

Gerry Schiller has lived year-round on Elbow Lake since 2003, and asked commissioners to consider the big picture before approving a large RV park. The “sheer magnitude of the impact on the road, the lake and the land” should be considered before making a decision, he said. Lakeshore owners also want more information on how the RV park will be run and what rules it will impose on its guests, he said.

Tim O’Keefe also owns property on Elbow Lake, and asked commissioners if more land on the lake would be converted into RV parks and if there would be any kind of limit to this type of development on the lake.

“If this gets approved, where does it stop?” he asked. “What’s the limit on projects of this type?” He asked that lakeshore owners have input on policy decisions affecting the lake.

More than 50 letters were received by the county on the proposal, most in opposition. A number of concerns were voiced, including increased water traffic, effect on wildlife, number of docks, tree removal, the threat of aquatic invasives, and issues with flowing wells. This last would be resolved by the RV campground having one main well at the highest point, and by minimal digging -- water pipes would be buried shallow and drained and blown out each autumn to prevent freezing, for instance.

Becker County commissioners voiced varying degrees of concern about the proposed RV park.
For Commissioner Larry Knutson, 49 units is at least eight units too many, since a park that size would require rezoning from agricultural to residential. He does not support that rezoning.


Neither does Commissioner Barry Nelson, who said that a number of conditions would have to be included before he would support the request: For example, boat slips would be limited to six total, docks would have to be close to shore, and the number of units would have to be more manageable. He invited Elbow Lake property owners to help the county with proposed conditions for the RV park.

Commissioner Ben Grimsley was also a tough sell, and said he does not support the proposal in its current form. There are problems with easements, and with the overall density of the campground, he said.

Grimsley and other commissioners said they want to see a business plan, ensure that on-site management is part of the package, and to review the site plan and other planning and zoning documents that were too small for them to read.

The plans were submitted full size and accurately to the county zoning office, and the problem with them being too small to read was not the developer’s fault, said Scott Walz of Meadowland Surveying, who represents Stahl on the project.

He pointed out that the proposal had been presented to the township, run through the county’s technical environmental advisory committee, and been presented to the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations, Becker Soil & Water Conservation District, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other professionals.

“He did jump through every hoop we requested,” noted Becker County Zoning Administrator Kyle Vareberg. “We started this process in February (and) the process was followed correctly.” Neighbors within a quarter mile of the proposed campground were notified, the standard distance used by Becker County, and the standard notification distance required by state law, he said.

In the end, commissioners voted unanimously to table the RV campground request until the next board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3.

The County Board, which has the final say, opted not to send the request back to the county planning commission, but to thrash out conditions of operation, number of RV units, number of boat slips and other details of the conditional use permit request itself.

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