The lower part of William O’Brien State Park, located along the St. Croix River in Scandia, Minn., will close next spring for updates to the popular area. It will remain off-limits for a year-and-a-half, with reopening planned in fall 2024. The affected area includes the boat launch, Riverside Trail, Lake Alice, 60 campsites at the Riverway Campground, and the Riverside Group Camp.
“Starting in spring 2023, William O’Brien State Park will be undergoing work to bring additional accessibility and updated amenities to the park,” the Department of Natural Resources recently announced.
The park was one of three Minnesota state parks chosen by the DNR in 2018 to pursue big upgrades that will make it accessible to visitors who use wheelchairs. Then-DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said it was long overdue to provide opportunities to people with limited mobility in the state’s popular parks. Approximately 265,000 Minnesotans had mobility impairments as of 2015, with nearly 20 percent of people over 65 reporting difficulty walking and climbing stairs.
“We want to create a whole weekend of outdoor fun that can be accessed seamlessly by all Minnesotans regardless of their physical abilities,” said Landwehr. “We can start by providing a comprehensive, accessible outdoor recreation experience at one state park to demonstrate how it could look at other state parks and public lands.”
Proposed upgrades included hiking trails, campgrounds, and Walter F. Mondale Day Use Area.
- Accessible hiking trails, geocaching and St Croix River overlooks
- Campsites with accessible camping pads, fire rings and picnic tables, and other amenities
- Wheelchair accessible picnic shelters, path, bathrooms, and a nature play area
- Visitor center with accessible features and naturalist exhibits
- Accessible paddle sports launch area and fishing pier
“This is a quality of life issue for people with disabilities,” said Joan Willshire, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability. “We know that outdoor recreation improves people’s lives in so many important ways. This investment in our state park facilities expands the reach of those outdoor recreation benefits to so many more Minnesotans. We’d love to see it expanded statewide.”
The Minnesota legislature designated $500,000 toward the effort in 2018, followed by $3 million for the O’Brien project in the 2020 bonding bill, as part of $104 million for DNR projects that year. By then, Landwehr had left the post, replaced by current Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
The closure will affect approximately 200 acres east of Highway 95, but the rest of the nearly 2,000-acre park will remain open. That includes most of the hiking and cross-country skiing trails, the Savanna Campground, and the existing visitor center.