Milford Mine Memorial Park was one of 14 parks and trails in Minnesota deemed regionally significant last month by a state commission.
The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission announced the Crow Wing County park achieved regional status, a designation awarded through a stringent review process. Once designated, regional parks and trails are eligible for funding through the commission, which utilizes dollars from the Legacy Amendment Parks and Trails Fund.
The county board Tuesday passed a motion to support a funding application, which if awarded would grant $120,000 to complete the third phase of the park.
Milford Mine was the site 92 years ago of one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history, when 41 miners were killed in underground tunnels after a nearby lake flooded the mine. It remains Minnesota's worst mining disaster. Work on the park, which memorializes those miners, began in 2010 and is nearing completion. It is located west of Highway 6 and south of County Highway 30, between Island and Milford lakes, and includes the site of the mine. Construction on a boardwalk bridge across Milford Lake was recently completed and work to secure the mine shafts is ongoing. Interpretive signage and trail marking was part of recent work as well.
In his request for board action, Chris Pence, land services supervisor, listed several park amenities the funds would be used to develop: a restroom facility, a canoe launch and fishing platform, a secondary picnic shelter, a memorial wall addition and access road improvements. The funds would also support a site preservation action plan and marketing strategies. If awarded, the grant funds would be available beginning July 1, 2017.
Previous phases of the project included improving public access through parking areas and a walking path along the north end of Milford Lake along with construction of a picnic shelter, benches, picnic tables, bicycle rack and cooking grills. Landscape trees were also planted and a park entrance sign installed.
The recent funding opportunity was not one county staff expected earlier this year. The county was not selected for a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society in 2015, and in April, Pence said he thought that could be the "last grant opportunity that we have the opportunity to apply for." The county board approved a budget amendment at that time to assist in completion of the park.
"It's been six years in the works, and it is a beautiful park," said Chairman Doug Houge at the April meeting. "To get the project completed and to be able to get it used as it's intended is important."
Because of the regional designation, the park already passed a commission review process and will be evaluated and ranked for funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature. Of the 41 parks and trails recognized as regionally significant, two others are in the local area: the Gull Lake Trail, located in Lake Shore, and the Plains to Port Trail in Mille Lacs County.