Crow Wing County is seeking bids from contractors to perform repairs and improvements to the historic Pequot Lakes fire tower it bought from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

County commissioners heard at the Tuesday, May 21, committee of the whole meeting from the land services department about the future plans for the planned tourist attraction.

"We just sent the (request for proposal) to the State Historic Preservation Office," county environmental services supervisor Ryan Simonson said.

The 100-foot-tall fire tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017 and has been on the National Historic Lookout Register since 1993. The tower is on a 40-acre parcel of land, which was also included in last fall's purchase of the tower for $1.

"They have a 30-day review period where they're going to review all of the improvements that we're proposing and make sure that our plans fit within all the National Register of Historic Places guidelines," Simonson said of the preservation office.

The fire tower north of County Highway 11 and east of Highway 371 was built in 1934. It was initially closed two years ago due to vandalism and misuse. Windows have repeatedly been broken in the cab with equipment thrown from the top of the tower.

"We're making all these improvements and still keeping that historic integrity," Simonson said of the project, which will be completed by Sept. 15.

The proposed work includes the stairway treads, landings and handrails; the tower legs, cables and antennas; cab floor, walls, ceiling and windows; and tower base.

"I think June 7 we're due to hear back from the State Historic Preservation Office ... and then select a contractor in late June hopefully, and they will have plenty of time to make improvements before this fall," Simonson said as he presented his timeline for the project.

Future plans include to work on sign or kiosk design from November to May 2020; install a new restroom facility by June 2020; and purchase 69 acres of nearby private land using Legislative-Citizens Commission for Minnesota Resources funds by August 2020.

Since 1963, almost $1 billion has been appropriated to more than 2,200 projects recommended to the Legislature by the Legislative-Citizens Commission for Minnesota Resources to protect and enhance the state's environment and natural resources.

"Next spring, we'd probably come back and say, 'Here are some options for you guys to consider,'" Land Services Director Gary Griffin said about fire tower improvements.

A selection committee consisting of county Facilities Manager Reid Thiesse, county Facilities Coordinator Rachel Breun and Simonson will review and evaluate proposals in making the decision to select the project contractor that will provide the "best value" for the county project.

Griffin told the board Tuesday that picnic shelters, trails, informational signs about the history of the area and more could one day be a part of the Pequot Lakes fire tower site.

The commission makes funding recommendations to the Legislature for special environment and natural resource projects. The commission is funded through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is generated by the Minnesota State Lottery.

The county board authorized the chair in March to sign a letter of support for the grant application to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources as part of efforts to buy 69 acres of land surrounding the historic Pequot Lakes fire tower.

The purchase could be made with a possible grant from the Legislative-Citizens Commission for Minnesota Resources to turn the fire tower area into a tourist attraction and an educational, environmental and historical resource adjacent to the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.

"We're still waiting to hear if we were approved for that grant," Simonson said.

The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund's purpose is to provide a long-term, consistent and stable source of funding for activities that protect, conserve, preserve and enhance Minnesota's "air, water, land, fish, wildlife and other natural resources."

Since 1991, the fund has provided about $630 million to almost 1,600 projects around the state.

Proposal presentations to the commission will occur in June, with its recommendations presented in the 2020 Legislative session and funds available on July 1, 2020.