There could be a big new park along the river just north of downtown Stillwater sometime soon, if several governments can work together to make it happen. The land would be located along the under-construction Brown’s Creek Trail.
The idea has already gained momentum this year, with Washington County adding it to a list of possible acquisitions, and the Stillwater city council expressing interest in working with the county.
A private landowner, the Aiple family, recently approached Washington County officials about selling the land to the county. The family would like to ensure the land — which includes 4,000 feet of river shoreline — is preserved for the public use.
The site is 16 acres and valued at more than $1 million. It includes a single-family home, a man-made trout pond, and docks on the river.
The issue first came up at the Washington County board of commissioners meeting in early December, at which time it became obvious several other possible public buyers were not interested:
The National Park Service supports the project, but can’t acquire the land because it is outside the St. Croix River’s Scenic Waterway boundary, Harper said. The state Department of Natural Resources feels the site is too small and manicured for a state park and is not needed for either the Brown’s Creek Trail or a water access site, she added.
The Metropolitan Council feels the property is a better fit for a local park, but Stillwater city officials have not taken an official position on the purchase, Harper said. City staff is concerned about the city’s ability to assume the long-term commitment of managing the site, she added.
“None of the agencies I spoke to wanted to own and manage the property,” she said. “We have talked with the city of Stillwater and they haven’t committed (buying) the property.”
At the beginning of this year, the county announced it had added the possible land acquisition to the list of projects it wants to use Land and Water Legacy Program funds for. The $20 million, 10-year program is funded by property taxes and was passed by voters in a referendum in 2006.
At its meeting on Tuesday, the Stillwater city council expressed its interest in partnering with the county to explore the potential and possibly acquire the property:
“It’s an opportunity for the city to significantly expand its riverfront,” Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said. “Even if not for today, for future generations. I don’t really think we have a burning need for it today, but to have that available—especially as the (Brown’s Creek) trail evolves—it will be important to do something with that piece of land.”
There is no need to turn the property into pubic-use land immediately, Stillwater Community Development Director Bill Turnblad said. One option is for Mrs. Aiple to remain there as a life estate, but all the details still have to be discussed.
“I see no downside for the city continuing to work with the county in exploring what’s possible in preserving this for future public use,” City Administrator Larry Hansen said.
Any acquisition and public access to the site is likely far off, but this property could eventually serve as a popular new riverfront area for the public. Particularly with its location where the new bike trail will enter downtown Stillwater, the possibilities are significant.