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Paynesville Press - April 07, 2004

City applies for DNR grant to pursue nature park

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The city of Paynesville may build a nature park on 119 acres surrounding Kruger's Pond.

Last week, the city council approved applying for a DNR grant to pay for half of the land purchase, after holding a public hearing at a special city council meeting on Monday, March 29.

Local resident Mary Hahn has offered the 119-acre property, located a few miles east of town in Paynesville Township between Highway 55 and Lake Koronis, to the city for $200,000, which is less than its appraised value. In return, though, she wants the property, much of which is currently used for agriculture, restored to its natural state and kept that way.

To illustrate her point, Hahn came to the public hearing dressed in coveralls and wore gloves, boots, and mosquito netting to demonstrate what someone might need to wear while visiting the park to work or play. She wants the city to focus on conservation, restoration, and education if it purchases the property.

Hahn has already begun to restore the property to its natural state. Using a sprayer, she seeded five acres of trees in a natural pattern. Also, some of the property was tiled to make it more suitable for ag use, and she would like these areas to be restored to wetlands, she told the council.

Hahn also wants the property used to educate the public, and she hoped residents would take a hands-on approach to learning about nature. She wants school children and adults to take part in restoring and conserving the property.

The city council held the public hearing last week because it is a requirement of the DNR grant, which could pay for half of the purchase price. While agreeing to apply for the grant, the council has not formally agreed to purchase the property yet.

The city has applied for a recreational grant from the DNR twice before - both times for improvements to the picnic shelters at Veteran's Memorial Park - and has been turned down both times. (The city also held a public hearing last week in order to reapply for a DNR grant for the picnic shelter project.)

If the city receives a DNR grant, it would be responsible for the other half of the purchase price, which would come from the park capital improvement fund. The city would pay over three years.

Since the city could use its reserves to make the purchase, city residents would not have to pay additional taxes for the purchase, said city administrator Steve Helget.

Council member Dave Peschong expressed some reluctance last week to the project, noting that the property was far away from the city limits, but other council members thought that developing a nature park in that area would be good for the city.

"This could be a tremendous asset to the community," said Mayor Jeff Thompson, who believes it would be foolish not to take the opportunity that has been offered by Hahn. The city has many recreational facilities, but it is unlikely that it will be offered the chance to develop a nature park in such a good location, he added.

The property could be linked to the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail on Old Lake Road, which runs adjacent to the property. The property is also in close proximity to the city's Veteran's Memorial Park, noted Helget.

The property was appraised at $280,000, Hahn told the council. It would be worth far more if developed, but Hahn is not interested in that. Instead, she wants to put the property into a land trust to make sure that it is preserved.

According to Hahn, the city would actually purchase the property from the Minnesota Real Estate Association, which will ensure that the land is used as she wishes.

The property could never be developed, said Helget.

Township supervisor Harry Thielen inquired at the public hearing why - since the property is located in Paynesville Township - that the township was not notified of the possible sale.

Hahn said that she offered the property to several conservation groups, most of which were unable to purchase it for financial reasons, before offering it to the city. She choose to offer it to the city because she believes the city was in a better position to develop it as she wanted, she said.

Thompson assured Thielen that the township could participate in the project if they wanted and their involvement would be appreciated.

If the property is purchased, ongoing costs would be minimal, added Helget. Trail costs would be kept minimal by using gravel instead of asphalt, and most of the the restoration and maintenance would involve more labor than money. Helget hoped volunteers would provide some of the labor.

Eventually, picnic shelters and benches could be added, though, the city would need to be careful to honor Hahn's wishes for the land, said Helget.

The city should know by late June if the grant was awarded. If the grant is not awarded, the city will consider re-negotiating with Hahn to purchase the property at a later date.

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