While it may take until late next fall before the new Lake Vermilion State Park has a basic park road, primitive campsites and trails to welcome visitors, planning and money are falling into place for a new kind of state park.
“We get calls or people coming to see the park every day but we really don’t have much to show them,” said Park Manager Jim Essig at the final meeting of the Lake Vermilion Advisory Committee in Tower February 7.
“We will start working on a park road, a few campsite and maybe some limited trails this summer. We have thought of setting up a geocashe to tell the story of the park’s development as well as boat tours along the shore. We certainly can’t have people moving around out there while we have construction crews working,” added Essig who has been the manager of the adjacent Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
The Advisory Committee has been meeting since the new 3,000-acre park was established last spring to develop a plan.
The basic park plan will have four day-use areas. One along Armstrong Bay with boat launch, picnic area, hiking trails near a camping area with an RV, tent and cart-in camping nearby.
There will be two day-use areas between Stuntz and Mattson Bays with rock climbing, swimming, houseboat landing and eventual visitor’s center. This will include a fishing pier on Cable Bay not far from a Walleye spawning area.
The fourth day-use area would be south of Hwy. 169 where a possible mountain bike course and large RV campground may be places.
So far there are two high peaks designated for overlooks of the 40,000-acre Lake Vermilion or the parks interior marchland.
The park has two historic regions in the original Soudan part of the park. One is the landing at Stuntz Bay with its historic boathouses and the other is the half-mile deep iron mine.
There is funding in place to build a park road along the old Hwy 169 connecting the Soudan Mine, Stuntz Bay day-use area and another to the Armstrong Bay area.
While the park road has been established, a system of hiking, biking, skiing and snowmobile trails will take a couple years to develop.
“Since we have so much rock, marsh and protected areas in this park, it will take some creative planning to incorporate the different trail types into an integrated trail system without having them running over each other. We also need to be careful not to fragment the park,” said Larry Peterson, DNR civil engineer and park developer.
“We have a blank slate here,” said Essig. “What will start as a small trail system based on what is there now will be completely different five to 10 years from now.”
The good news is the Mesabi Bike Trail will have more freedom in planning its route along old Hwy. 169 and it does have its funding in place to extend the trail from Tower though the park. Eventually the Mesabi Trail will extend onto Bear Head Lake State Park and onto Ely.
If all the components of the park were to be put into place today, the cost would reach an estimated $50 million. The park has $1.6 million for planning and the basic stages of development. Gov. Mark Dayton has put $4.5 million into his off-year bonding bill and the DNR is asking the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for $3 million.
Because this is the first totally new state park in Minnesota in the last 30 years, Regional Parks & Trails Manager Paul Maurer believes the park has an open book when it comes to interpretation and visitor activities.
“We’re looking forward to the Bio Blitz in June as well as offering some of the “I Can” programs. We’re also looking some different ways of providing self guided boat tours, day-use shore lunches and naturalist hikes,” said Maurer.
He said they are also looking at some alternatives to the traditional naturalist presentations noting the scientific features of the Soudan Mine and the variety of skilled and knowledgeable people in the region.
“When this park was announced, it was said we have the opportunity to do some very creative and innovative things and I really believe that is true,” concluded Maurer.