When the National Loon Center is constructed in Crosslake in 2022, it’s expected to generate an influx of visitors to an already heavily traveled corridor in the summer months.

This expectation combined with the federal government’s assertion it will allow no new parking facilities at the site located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property left city and county officials wondering what the future might bring. The area faces existing challenges for pedestrians and bicyclists, explained County Engineer Tim Bray Wednesday, Dec. 11, and those challenges will likely be exacerbated by the loon center, which proponents estimate may see as many as 200,000 visitors a year.

An engineering study presented to the Crow Wing County Board identified adequate parking within walking distance of the loon center site, along with several strategies to improve pedestrian safety and mobility in the city. Dave Reese of engineering firm Widseth Smith Nolting told the board the study showed parking areas near the site were underutilized, and results of a survey of businesses in the area seemed to support that.

“We did receive input from those folks and there was some concern about whether or not their parking would be taxed by increases in people trying to visit the loon center,” Reese said. “But I think there was equal or more input that most of the time their parking was adequate. There’s just some peak periods during each day, usually around the noon hour, when they’re at capacity.”

Reese said the study revealed more about potential issues with pedestrians than vehicles.

“The primary issue is … not particularly the cars and where they park, it’s the gaps that exist between these parking areas and some of the primary destinations of these people to businesses,” he said. “There’s over 20,000 visitors to the Cross Lake Recreation Area each month, and they’re trying to cross Highway 66, they’re trying to walk along (County Highway) 3 to get to the town square, to get to the Reed’s Market to shop. Although the development has created some of these existing trails … it doesn’t continue all the way, and so we have pedestrians who are walking along the side of the highway and they’re crossing through parking lots and mixing with vehicles.”

County Engineer Tim Bray presents to the Crow Wing County Board Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the county board room at the Crow Wing County Historica Courthouse. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
County Engineer Tim Bray presents to the Crow Wing County Board Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the county board room at the Crow Wing County Historica Courthouse. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Bray said although the project is in the future, city and county officials are looking for ways to solve potential problems before they arise. That includes seeking as many funding resources as possible to help pay for potential improvements, including new sidewalks and crosswalks. City officials are planning to apply for a 2024 federal Transportation Alternatives grant, Bray said, and he asked the board to agree to the county serving as a sponsoring agency for the grant should it be awarded. The resolution, approved unanimously, also noted the county would participate in matching grant funds and other project costs associated with changes to the county road system in the area.

After the meeting, Bray emphasized any construction plans were still a long way into the future, and the study and grant application were just the beginning.

In other business, the board:

Agreed to table a request from property owner Justin Rudolph to amend the land use map for a parcel near Carlson Lake on Pine Beach Road. Rudolph asked the county to allow the property to change from rural residential 2.5 in the shoreland district to commercial 2. The change would allow Rudolph to install an outdoor storage lot as part of his landscaping business. The planning commission recommended the county board deny the request, citing concerns about the location within a mostly residential area and the inability to limit any future businesses that may locate at the site. Rudolph already has two conditional use permits allowing him to operate the business on site and to build a commercial storage building. A motion to deny the request failed 3-2, with commissioners Bill Brekken and Steve Barrows voting in favor.

Approved a petition for a preliminary plat to break up the Fishtales Resort property on Lake Hubert into five residential lots and one common lot. Doing so would allow each of the lots to be sold to individual owners.

Approved purchase for service contracts for 2020 for services such as chemical use assessments, mental health treatment and group homes. One new contract will go into effect in 2020 with Resource Training and Solutions, providing guardianship services. The monthly rate per client is $210.37. Most contracts were unchanged from the previous year. Those with changes include:

  • Eagle Ridge Boys Ranch, a corrections foster home. The daily rate increased from $95 to $100. The explanation for the change, offered by Crow Wing County Community Services, is, “Children are requiring more services as they have more complex needs and a need for added security. Provider states this rate is much lower compared to other providers doing same level of care.”

  • Pinehaven Youth and Family Services, treatment foster care. A new fee was implemented for administration of the Collaborative Intensive Bridging Services program, which seeks to treat children ages 6-17 years old who have problems with aggression, self-injurious behavior, depression, truancy, acting out in home or school, theft and other issues. The treatment model combines intensive in-home therapy with a brief intensive residential treatment center placement. The cost is $176 per day.

  • PORT Boys’ and Girls’ group homes. Rates for children referred by Crow Wing County and other counties increased by 3% “to cover anticipated increase in employee wages, driven by the union contract.”

  • Productive Alternatives, extended employment for adults with disabilities. The daily rates increased for participants from $27.75 per day to $30 per day, but the yearly maximum for the contract decreased from $52,000 to $50,000.

  • Phillip Tange, Rule 70 assessments. The contract increased from $85 per hour to $90 per hour, but the contract maximum remained at $5,000 per year.

Approved reclassifying as nonconservation and authorized direct sale of a tax-forfeited parcel along Memorywood Drive on White Sand Lake to the city of Baxter for $4,600. The city sought to purchase the nonconforming, non-buildable lot due to a stormwater system on the property.

Approved a budget amendment request from land services to purchase a new Chevrolet Suburban, two new trucks for forestry staff and an all-terrain vehicle. A total of $120,109 will be drawn from the tax-forfeited fund.

Agreed to appoint Zach Tabatt, Baxter city council member, to the Crow Wing County Housing and Residential Authority. Tabatt was previously appointed to the Natural Resources Advisory Committee, leaving a vacancy along with one in an at large seat. The county board agreed to advertise for applications to the at large seat.

Authorized entering into a contract with Anderson Brothers Construction Co. for $2.26 million for intersection improvements on county highways 13 and 77 at Highway 371.

Approved final payments to Anderson Brothers for the following projects: $5.28 million for bituminous surfacing on county highways 8, 10, 22 and 26; $2.08 million for bituminous surfacing a number of roads, including township and First Assessment District roads; $284,000 for bituminous spot patching; and $188,000 for improvements to County Road 147 and landfill improvements.

Approved a number of changes to the county fee schedule after no members of the public spoke at a public hearing. A number of the changes related to administration of the Wetland Conservation Act, which the county agreed to take over this year from the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District.

Agreed to establish an absentee ballot board as required by state law to bring uniformity to the process of accepting and rejecting absentee ballots. Boards may consist of election judges or deputy county auditors.

Agreed to appoint election judges for the 2020 presidential primary election for the Red, White and Blue precincts in the First Assessment District, also known as Unorganized Territory. Head judges will earn $15/hour and others who serve will earn $12/hour.

Agreed to appoint commissioners Brekken and Barrows to the canvassing board for the 2020 primary election.

Renewed impound contracts with Heartland Animal Rescue Team for dangerous dogs in Crow Wing County and impounded dogs in the First Assessment District. Fees were unchanged. For dangerous dogs, the fee is $50 per day for a maximum of 10 days. If owners reclaim the dogs, they are required to pay the county back for the impound fees. If the dog is not claimed, the county covers the impound fee, veterinary charge, euthanasia and disposal costs. For impounded dogs in First Assessment, the daily fee is $16 and the monthly administrative fee is $683.88.

Approved tobacco licenses for 48 businesses throughout Crow Wing County. Commissioner Doug Houge, a recipient of a license for Crosby Bar, abstained from voting.

Approved the hiring of the following people: Christy Gass, deputy in the sheriff’s office; Charlena Mulihill, probation case aide; Jayna Crawford, social worker; and Bailey Boelter, part-time deputy in the sheriff’s office.

Accepted the departures of the following employees: Colter Jenkins, correctional officer, sheriff’s office; Shari Nelson, community services specialist in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC; and Alicia Isom, social worker. The board also approved replacement staffing for a correctional officer, social worker and public health nurse.

Reclassified a WIC specialist position to a nutrition dietician, and increased the grade of the household hazardous waste technician position in land services.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.