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Baxter City Council agrees to purchase Camp Vanasek property from Crow Wing County

The camp was started by the Brainerd Campfire Girls in 1952 and dedicated to Marlena Vanasek. Crow Wing County has the fee title to the property, which is in the city of Baxter.

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Camp Vanasek in Baxter is located on Whipple Lake. The city council agreed to purchase the property from Crow Wing County during its Wednesday, Aug. 4, meeting. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — The woodland, paths and lakeshore familiar to many for whom summer meant a trip to Camp Vanasek will be preserved for park use after the city of Baxter approved the purchase of the 84 acres not far from the city’s popular Whipple Beach.

The property, commonly known as the Camp Vanasek property, is along Oakwood Drive and sits on the shores of Whipple Lake. The property’s future was in doubt after Crow Wing County told the city it was exploring dissolving its interest in the property back in the winter of 2019.

The nonprofit Camp Vanasek, which works with children, the community and service groups with year-round lodges on the leased property, is sponsored by the Lions. The camp was started by the Brainerd Campfire Girls in 1952 and dedicated to Marlena Vanasek. Crow Wing County has the fee title to the property, which is in the city of Baxter.

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This summer, purchase negotiations included a Baxter counteroffer to Crow Wing County.

Wednesday, during the regular council session, City Administrator Brad Chapulis outlined terms of the deal to purchase the property from the county for $347,471 on a contract for deed over 10 years, with zero interest and an annual payment of $34,747.10 each year on July 15, starting in 2022. The county will be responsible for closing and recording costs and there is no penalty for an early payoff.

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Since this was an unexpected purchase, the city doesn’t have funds reserved for the purchase. Staff proposed funding from the property levy with a combination of park dedication fees to be paid over the next 10 years.

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In the council report, the acquisition was described as giving the city the opportunity to achieve one of its goals in expanding the Whipple Beach Recreation Area into a community park with a variety of facilities not unlike the city’s Oscar Kristofferson Park.

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said he appreciated all the negotiations on both sides. However, he said it felt like a double-edged sword.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword here,” said Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson, who spoke of the goal of providing a community park, with the addition of the Camp Vanasek property, and the community draw that already exists in Whipple Beach. People use Whipple Beach from all over the county, Olson said.

“This is not a Baxter park, already it’s a community park — this would be in addition to that,” Olson said. He added Baxter taxpayers are county taxpayers. Olson said he didn’t understand why it didn’t resonate with the county that this was about preserving this property for community use.

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He noted the county has previously deeded property to other cities and entities in the past for a dollar.

“I’m excited about getting the property because we’ve talked about the potential uses of it, I just don’t like the way it came about and the fact that our people are going to have to bear the cost of it for everybody else,” Olson said.

When the first discussion started and it was in the Dispatch, Olson said a Baxter resident came up to him at Cub Foods in Baxter and said, “You need to get that property.”

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Olson said he knows there is public support for it. He said it just seems Baxter is on its own in the endeavor.

“I’m kind of disappointed that we couldn’t come to an agreement that benefits everybody in the area,” Olson said.

If a dog park goes in there and disc golf, it will be used by everybody in the community, Olson said.

“I feel very similarly to the way — what you just described there, I’m a huge fan of what’s going on in the camp right now and the YMCA using it and the programming going on,” council member Zach Tabatt said, noting an analysis right now of the kids having wonderful experiences there would find people well beyond the city limits are benefiting.

Tabatt said he was in favor of more local control of the property and he appreciated the way the city did its best to make a deal that was acceptable. Tabatt noted the terms were very good.

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“I feel like that is as good as we can do in the context that it didn’t feel like we were on the same page in terms of how the value was seen. So I guess, I also don’t want to throw the anchor but I can’t personally vote in favor of the agreement as it currently stands. So I’m just going to note that I will be theoretically throwing out an anchor.”

Olson said he didn’t want to start the process all over again either and they’ve come a long way but understands the principle. If the county was dead set on selling the property, with or without the city, and it went to a developer, Olson said he’d kick himself there, too.

The motion passed 3-1 to approve the purchase agreement with Tabatt voting against and Olson and council members Connie Lyscio and Mark Cross in favor. Council member John Ward was absent.

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Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.
Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSMINNESOTABAXTER
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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