More than a half-mile of riverfront land just north of downtown Stillwater will be open to the public, thanks to a deal finalized this month.
The Aiple Property, 15 acres of land wedged between Highway 95 (and the new Brown’s Creek Trail) and the river, is being acquired for $4.3 million, with funds from the state of Minnesota, city of Stillwater, and Washington County. (See previous coverage here.)
The property, one of the longest stretches of river frontage still in private ownership in Washington County, will be conveyed to the city next year. The city will then start developing plans for how it will be used and managed. Ultimately, the city hopes to return the land to a more natural state, and improve access to the river. It could include facilities for shore fishing, short-term docks, walk-in boat launches, walking paths, nature observation, and picnicking.
“It’s going to be a passive, natural park,” county commissioner Gary Kriesel, who led the acquisition project, told the Pioneer Press. “I envision a river frontage being like what I grew up in — where kids can go out and fish and maybe put in a canoe or kayak. … I’d just like to thank the Aiples for allowing it to be sold.”
While the Aiples thought they could get more than $4.3 million from a private buyer, their attorney said they wanted to see the land preserved for the public.
“We, along with everyone else, agreed that this is too important a piece of property to be sold for another McMansion,” Jack Hoeschler told the Pioneer Press.
The Washington County board voted 5-0 to approve the purchase at its Sept. 23 meeting. The county will contribute $1.925 million in funds from its Land and Water Legacy Program (LWLP), a 2006 voter-approved fund to acquire land for “purposes of improving water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; protecting drinking water; preserving wetlands and woodlands; and protecting land along water bodies from development.”
The City of Stillwater is contributing $1.125 million to the project and the State of Minnesota is contributing $1.25 million in grant funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), which receives 40 percent of net proceeds from the Minnesota State Lottery.
“This property is a gem along the St. Croix River that has long been privately held and will now be available for use by the public and will contribute to an even more vibrant downtown,” said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki. “This acquisition will preserve access to the river for all of our residents and visitors, and it adds significantly to one of our greatest assets, the riverfront.”
The landowner, Elayne Aiple, has lived on the land since the late 1960s and will be allowed to stay in the house for up to five more years while the park is planned and developed. With her husband Frank, who died in 2000, Elayne owned Aiple Marine and Towing south of downtown Stillwater. The property of their former business is also in the process of being converted to a park.