In a long-awaited land deal in the southwest metro, Carver County has approved a purchase agreement with a private owner for a 19-acre parcel that will enlarge Lake Waconia Regional Park.
Acquiring the property has been a county goal for many years, said parks director Marty Walsh, and it will add 890 feet of prime shoreline to the park. "It also has a hillside that sits 40 feet above the lake and offers a spectacular view," he said.
The addition will bring the park, located along the lake's southern edge, to its full 135 acres, as envisioned in a 1996 master plan.
The nearly 3,000-acre lake is the second-largest in the metro area after Lake Minnetonka, and hosted the 2012 Governor's Fishing Opener in May.
It's popular for sailing and water skiing and especially for fishing. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources operates one public boat access with 40 parking places on the east side of the lake, but it's crowded all summer. Overflow parking frequently spills onto County Road 92, Walsh said, causing safety concerns as people walk along the road and open car doors into the lane of traffic.
Partnering with the DNR
DNR officials are well aware of the problems, said Kent Skaar, the agency's manager for acquisition and development of parks and trails.
"We've been seeking additional [boat access] opportunity on Waconia for decades," he said.
As soon as the county closes on the purchase, it will negotiate with DNR about buying some of the land to design and build a boat access and parking area at the park. Preliminary talks already have raised the possibility of a partnership, Skaar said, with a DNR-owned boat access that would be maintained by county park workers in terms of grass-cutting and trash pickup.
"The opportunity to partner with the county on a shared facility is unique, and certainly one that interests us," Skaar said.
The 19-acre tract has been used in recent years mainly for growing hay. It adjoins the regional park with its sandy beach, picnic grounds, play equipment, restrooms and other amenities.
County will be reimbursed
Walsh said the county's $3.25 million purchase price was based upon a property appraisal. He said the county expects to be reimbursed fully from two funds channeled through the Metropolitan Council, including some money from the Parks and Trails Legacy Fund approved by Minnesota voters in 2008.
The purchase will enable the county to develop a lakeside trail that could eventually link to a bicycle and pedestrian path planned by the city of Waconia. Susan Arntz, Waconia city administrator, said she's excited about the possibilities ahead.
"It'll be a really dynamic attraction for the park and for the community to be able to have that walking path into that regional park," Arntz said.
The regional park hosts an annual triathlon in June, a Fourth of July fireworks show, a vintage snowmobile show in January, and other events. Having an interconnected trail system will be safer and more attractive for both special occasions and for regular park use, Arntz said.
The park also contains the Waconia Event Center, leased to a private firm that schedules meetings, weddings, reunions, trade shows and other events in its ballroom.
Walsh said the park attracts about 102,000 user visits each year, and the beach area of the park dates back to the 1960s.
Skaar said it is likely to take at least three years for the DNR to acquire, design and build a public boat access on a portion of the 19 acres, and that "everything is funding-dependent." He said Carver officials have shown great foresight in working for years to acquire the parcel.
"It's a very significant accomplishment for the county, no question," he said. "It looks like a wonderful opportunity for all."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388