The Washington County Board recently approved two plans to expand the boat launch at St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park, and tear down a disused structure.
St. Croix Bluffs is a nearly 700-acre park located on the lower river, four mils above the mouth at the Mississippi. In addition to a boat launch and three-quarters of a mile of riverfront, it offers camping, picnicking, and cross-country skiing.
In 2019, the county acquired 102 acres to add to the park, which will be developed for additional camping, river access, and natural habitat.
On Nov. 16, the board approved a $198,000 contract to improve the boat launch area of the park. The launch is the only publicly-managed landing on the Minnesota side of the river downstream of Bayport.
As such, it gets a lot of heavy use, and is showing the effects.
“The bottom of the existing boat launch has a steep slope that is susceptible to erosion and has
been scoured from users power-loading their boats,” staff told the board. “When water levels are low, users have a hard time launching their boats with this steep slope and boat trailers are bottoming out, causing damage to trailers and axles.”
The project next year will replace the bottom portion of the boat launch, dredge the harbor and channel, resurface the parking lot, add a new fishing pier, and add new toilets.
The project was previously approved as part of the county’s capital improvement plan. The recent approval finalized the agreement with a private contractor and set the stage for work to be conducted in 2022. Staff say the work will probably be conducted next fall, and the boat launch will be closed at that time.
A week earlier, at the board’s meeting on Nov. 9, commissioners heard from parks staff about a cottage at the park, and approved the recommendation to remove it. The cabin was built in 1953-1954 by prominent mid-century Twin Cities architect Thomas Ellerbe, and later by his architecture firm. The property was eventually purchased by the company now known as Ceridian, which modified the building significantly to use for retreats.
Washington County acquired the property in 1996 and offered it for rentals. The house has been mostly unused since 2010 and, in 2015, it was essentially condemned.
“Due to years of deferred maintenance, restrooms not being ADA compliant, and foundation cracking, it was determined that the building could no longer be used as a county conference facility or for public rental,” county staff told the board.
Staff also said that vegetation had grown up to block the house’s view of the St. Croix River. Because it is located on the bluff line of the federally protected Lower St. Croix, no pruning could be performed.
Current problems with the structure include mold, water damage, rotting deck boards, and electrical wiring. Major renovations by Allerbe’s architecture firm, which used the property after his death, and Ceridian, had changed the structure enough that it would not qualify for historic designation.
Options considered included everything from complete renovations to demolition. Estimates included $736,000 to convert it to cabin for group retreats, $637,800 to build camper cabins on the site, building a $288,000 overlook deck at the location, or $118,300 to remove it entirely and restoring the site to natural habitat.