An outstate golf course that’s been shut down and slated for conversion to a prairie has become the subject of a last-minute fundraising appeal by locals eager to keep the links open.
Some $40,000 in pledges have been raised so far to save the Fort Ridgely State Park golf course, a 9-hole course run by the Department of Natural Resources that the state closed after Labor Day last year.
The DNR said the money-losing course, located south of Fairfax, no longer fit with the agency’s plans for the site, which include a larger project highlighting the area’s history in the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862.
Supporters of the 90-year-old golf course want to run it themselves starting this summer, and plan to raise $100,000 in pledges to pay for maintenance equipment and other costs.
“We have a 90-year-old golf course that has a heritage in the area,” said state Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg. “We want to see that it remains open.”
The city of Fairfax asked the DNR in November if it could lease and operate the course, but the plan was rejected.
Miller and Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, have since submitted bills proposing that the DNR lease the course to Fairfax. The lease rate would be not more than 8 percent of green fee revenue. Their proposal would allow motorized golf carts on the course and give the Fairfax municipal liquor store a license to sell beer out of a cart on the course.
If the course remains closed, local golfers would still be able to play at the 9-hole Mayflower Country Club about 5 miles north of Fort Ridgely. Fairfax, a town of 1,200 residents, lies about 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
A meeting between the city and the DNR is likely, and locals have prepared a list of people with golf course management experience prepared to take over, said Loran Kaardal, a volunteer behind some of the fundraising.
“We feel the course can be profitable if the city avoids debt and avoids lease payments,” said Kaardal.
He thinks the city could run the course more cheaply with used equipment than the state did with an annual lease payment, budgeting about $15,000 annually for 10 years, or less than half of what the state paid. He wants to see golfers tee off by July.
“One of the realities is that we’re not asking for money,” he said of the legislation.
Those lining up in support include the city of Fairfax, the county and a nonprofit group, the Friends of Fort Ridgely.
The DNR so far hasn’t budged.
“We are pretty firmly in the belief that we made a good decision and that it’s time to move forward,” said Phil Leversedge, DNR deputy director for the division of parks and trails.
The golf course and Fort Ridgely sit on land with a blood-soaked past. On an August afternoon in 1862, Dakota leader Taoyateduta led an army of 400 men in an attack on Fort Ridgely, one of the major skirmishes in what became known as the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862. The war ended with the public hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
Large parts of the park today are on the National Register of Historic Places. The DNR’s plans include an in-depth examination of how best to tell the story of the U.S.-Dakota war. Fort Ridgely is one of just two places in Minnesota acknowledged as national battlefields, said Leversedge. The other is Wood Lake.
The plans also call for restoring the native prairie to what it looked like in the mid-19th century, and improving trails for horseback riding. A citizens advisory committee also recommended improving the park’s amenities for camping, including a new toilet and shower facility and the repair of a historic amphitheater.