RV campground approved for Elbow Lake on 3-2 Becker County vote

The RV park will be lnext to the Jolly Fisherman Resort, on the upper part of the long, narrow lake and will be open each year from fishing opener to Oct. 1.

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A number of Elbow Lake property owners were at the Becker County Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in opposition to a proposed RV campground on the lake. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

An RV resort on Elbow Lake was approved on a 3-2 Becker County Board vote Tuesday, but not until commissioners cut the number of RV sites from 49 to 40 and added a number of stipulations to the conditional use permit.

Commissioners Richard Vareberg, John Okeson and Larry Knutson voted in favor of granting the conditional use permit, while commissioners Ben Grimsley and Barry Nelson voted against it.

The RV park will be next to the Jolly Fisherman Resort, on the upper part of the long, narrow lake and will be open each year from fishing opener to Oct. 1.


More than 60 Elbow Lake property owners went on record opposing the proposal, mostly due to concerns about it being too close to the Jolly Fisherman Resort; fears of boats jamming up that part of the lake; the lack of a road suitable for big RV rigs; and the threat of uncontrollable flowing wells in that area, Reese Peterson, president of the Big Elbow, Juggler and Little Bemidji Lake Association told commissioners.

Lake property owners are also worried about the campground’s effect on wildlife, the loss of trees in the area, the threat of aquatic invasives, and issues with septic systems and flowing wells.

Conditions imposed by commissioners on the new RV campground include no personal watercraft or wake boats, a dock system with no more than six boat lifts, an on-site manager, no day-docking, no expansion to adjacent property, and that the conditional use permit be non-transferrable.

No RV campers will be allowed on one small part of the site until campground owner Joey Stahl of Amenia, N.D., can work out an easement issue with the Jolly Fisherman Resort. He is also required to follow the business plan he submitted to the county.

Commissioner Nelson said Stahl has acted in good faith throughout the process. “You came in (with this conditional use permit request) with a lot of the situation already addressed,” Nelson told him. “It’s a tough decision for those of us trying to decide what’s reasonable there.”

Stahl came to the meeting with an updated proposal, and said he sought to meet with lake property owners to hear their concerns, but was ultimately rejected. His original proposal was tabled by the County Board last month.

Sioux Falls, S.D., attorney Bill Taylor told commissioners prior to the vote that he has owned property on Elbow Lake for many years “This RV park is not a use that is presumed under your statute,” he said. “It can be allowed only as a conditional use.” He contended that all six legal criteria required for a conditional use permit have not been met, and the burden of proof is on the applicant.

He also urged the board to reject the application because the Jolly Fisherman Resort is an official float plane base, with a weather balloon to assist pilots to land in that part of the lake.


Before the vote, Grimsley said he doesn’t support the density of the proposed campground. “I don’t support 40 or 41 units, I’m not sure I support the project at all. I don’t really see how it’s a viable business plan.”

Nelson added that, in the future, he would like the county to take another look at the density levels it allows for RV campgrounds.

“I would like as a county to revisit our density on RV campgrounds. It’s too great, especially in shoreland,” he said.

“We’re already more restrictive than the DNR shoreland model, but we can always look at it,” said Commissioner Larry Knutson.

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A view from the commissioner's table during planning and zoning action on a proposed Elbow Lake RV campground. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

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