With their sleek lines, walls of windows and generous balconies, the camper cabins at Whitetail Woods Regional Park look more like a page from a modern design magazine than the kind of basic cottage one might rent at a park.

"They're very unique," said Steve Sullivan, parks director for Dakota County. "There really aren't cabins of this sort at public parks."

The custom-designed cabins sit on 14-foot stilts, with views of towering pines. Although reservations aren't being taken until December, they have been attracting attention, including lots of oohs and aahs at the park's opening day event in late September.

Whitetail Woods, located in the middle of Dakota County with a Farmington address, is the county's first new regional park in 30 years. It's a full-service park with four-season trails, a sledding hill, a 100-person picnic shelter and an earthen amphitheater.

The park has been a popular place, Sullivan said.

"It's been busy," he said. "We're really happy to see a young park like this be embraced so quickly."

The park offers 456 acres of woods, prairie and wetlands and plenty of animals to watch.

More impressive is that when combined with UMore acreage in Rosemount and the Vermillion Highlands area, both natural areas adjacent to the park, there are 5,000 acres for residents to enjoy, he said.

Having such a huge chunk of preserved open space in the metro area is unusual, Sullivan said.

So far, the 3-mile walk around Empire Lake has been a hit with park-goers and takes about an hour to complete, he said.

During the opening day event, the kids' natural play area, with stumps, rocks and a water pump, "was just filled with children," he said.

In the woods nearby, there are artist-created sculptures hanging from branches and a place to build forts.

"There's a whimsical sort of sense of setting at our nature playground," Sullivan added.

The park's central location in Dakota County was planned because there was a geographical gap in the parks system, identified by the Metropolitan Council more than a decade ago.

The middle of the county is growing fast, with many new residents in Rosemount, Farmington and Lakeville. Now, they will have easy access to a regional park.

About $4.3 million was put into developing the park's trails, its architecture and site work, said Josh Kinney, senior project manager for the county's capital projects division.

While it's unusual to open a new regional park these days, Whitetail Woods is also special because so much of it was built at once, rather than added to over time, he said.

There are other phases planned. A dog park and a disc golf course are coming in the future, plans indicate.

For now, there are only three cabins. But the park has eventual plans to build more — up to 28 in all, each of the remainder also split into pods of three. The handicapped-accessible cabins sleep six people, have heat and electricity and are just yards from bathrooms and showers.

For $68 a night, campers get both convenience and access to nature.

The cabins can be rented on the Dakota County Parks website at www.co.dakota.mn.us/parks. Reservations will be taken beginning Dec. 1, with the first night of availability on Dec. 5.

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283