Stillwater’s city council recently signed off on a high-level proposal for how the former Aiple property will be used by the public.
Purchased in 2014 for $4.3 million by the county, with support from the city and state, the 15-acre site features more than a half-mile of river frontage. It is located on the north end of downtown Stillwater, next to the Brown’s Creek State Trail.
City planners and consultants mapped out the existing site – from possible 19th-century industrial pollution on the south end to a spring-fed pond on the north – and made recommendations for the future park’s design.
As planned since 2013, the property’s emphasis will be on “passive recreation,” such as shore-fishing, paddling, walking, picnicking, and other activities. Highlights of the plan include walking trails, a fishing pier, launching for canoes and kayaks, and maybe even trout fishing in the pond. A parking lot would be constructed next to Highway 95 just north of the train depot, and a driveway and drop-off area included for paddlers.
The city and Washington County must agree on the plan before the county can sell the property to the city and additional planning can be done. The sale will include a conservation easement tailored for the park’s intended uses.
While the overall plan was reviewed and approved at the January 3 meeting, it took another month to settle the issue of what to do with the existing house and other buildings on the property. The proposal called for the house to be demolished and replaced by picnic shelters.
Ultimately, their demolition became less likely. According to the Stillwater Gazette, at councilmember Tom Weidner’s request, a clause was amended to the plan calling for the buildings to be reused:
“Structures now existing or hereinafter constructed, must be used in furtherance of passive recreational uses such as shore fishing, transient dockage, walk in boat launching, walking paths, nature observation, picnicking and trail access, while protecting the scenic and ecological values of the St. Croix River, the MN State Trail amenity and in furtherance of the recreational needs of a national, state and local clientele.”
The concept plan estimates converting the home for public use would require about $1.1 million in renovations, including access for disabled individuals, code compliance, and mechanical and electrical upgrades.
There is one potentially-polluted area, described as “non-petroleum.” City planner Bill Turnblad said the site has a long history, including lumber mills, thresher manufacturing, and railroad car painting. That last one is the likely culprit of the contamination. It will be further investigated.
The concept plan was produced by landscape architecture firm Hoisington Koegler Group, which has done park planning around Minnesota, including Duluth, Rochester, and St. Paul.