The National Park Service (NPS) won't be opening a visitor center on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River this summer because of concerns over traffic and parking.
The agency's proposal to establish a presence at Arcola Mills, a historic site north of Stillwater, was denied Thursday by the May Township board. The decision overturned a planning commission recommendation that the town allow a trial period to gauge traffic and other concerns.
"I'm not terribly discouraged by the denial," said Ray Marshall, who chairs the foundation that oversees 55 acres, including an eight-bedroom Greek Revival house. "I believe that everybody on the township supports the idea of Arcola and the NPS going forward together."
The township board invited NPS and Arcola to make a new presentation in August, he said. Neighbors who spoke at town meetings supported the idea, "but they think it has to be done in a way to minimize problems that are going to result," Marshall said.
Township officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
NPS and Arcola Mills had joined forces in October in a one-month experiment at the old lumber mill site that drew 4,077 visitors. The purpose was to see how the public might react to a visitor center on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River.
The site lies within the boundaries of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a national park of nearly 98,000 acres under NPS management. The NPS has headquarters and a visitor center in St. Croix Falls, Wis., and has been exploring a permanent presence on the Minnesota side of the river.
Volunteers in October recorded visitors from 32 states and Washington, D.C. Ten foreign countries were represented, too.
"The Park Service is still very interested in Arcola," spokeswoman Julie Galonska said Friday from the St. Croix Falls office. "We've long felt that the Stillwater area in general is a great place for the Park Service to have a presence."
Arcola Mills, entered from Arcola Trail, has a small parking lot. Concerns about signage, wear on rural roads and the safety of several dilapidated 1940s-era cottages on the property also were raised.
"I think all township officials are trying to do is be very careful about the types of uses they're allowing in there," Marshall said.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037