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Baxter City Council discuss Mississippi River Overview Park plans again

The Mississippi River Overlook Park is a city-owned open space in southwest Baxter and master plans for the park were presented for a third time to the Baxter City Council Nov. 1.

Manny the golden retriever brings a stick for Angie Bahr to throw while at Mississippi River Overlook Park on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Baxter.
Manny the golden retriever brings a stick for Angie Bahr to throw while at Mississippi River Overlook Park on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Baxter.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — The Mississippi River Overview Park masterplan has been an ongoing topic of discussion for the Baxter City Council.

Baxter City Council members met in a work session Nov. 1 to discuss and review the master plan. This was the third time the master plan options were presented to the council.

The council has not been comfortable enough with the options to vote to approve them. One of the major concerns with the project's approval is the cost of creating the park.

The first time the plans were brought up to the council, multiple council members were absent and the plans were presented again the following meeting. At that meeting the council members expressed their concerns with cost and maintenance if the park were to be constructed.

Mississippi River Overlook Park on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Baxter.
Mississippi River Overlook Park on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Baxter.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Council member Zach Tabatt mentioned he had a conversation with Josh Doty, Community Development director for the city of Baxter, outside of the council session and was feeling much better about the project knowing that approving the park’s plans does not mean they have to commit to making it.

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The approval of a plan gives them the plan if they chose to pursue it, but it doesn’t mean it has to happen.

“I have always seen this land as minimal budget impact to the city and I stand behind my perspective of that in terms of yes, maybe some of this eventually happens, but keeping the public aware that no this is not on the docket any time soon and may never happen,” Tabatt said. “These are good forward-thinking concepts that staff and the planners have put on in case we need it in the future.”

The Mississippi River Overlook Park is a city-owned open space in southwest Baxter.

The 880-acre area includes 50-foot-high rolling hills of high quality natural land that features high biodiversity forests and wetlands, 1 mile of frontage along Pike Creek, and ownership entirely surrounding Island Lake. The city of Baxter received the land through a combination of a land donation and various acquisitions through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program and the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, among others.

Some of the amenities proposed on both master plans include soccer fields, a dog park, an outdoor education area and more.

The master plans were also presented to the Parks and Trails Commission and the Long Range Planning Commission in September. Both groups leaned toward Master Plan A.

A map outlining the potential plan for a future park.
Master Plan A was presented to the council Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, for the Mississippi River Overlook Park.
Contributed

The main difference between the two master plans concerns the future Camp Ripley Veterans State Trail. On the favored Plan A, the trail heads north near Island Lake and provides more land to be leased to third party organizations, like the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The trail continues westward in Plan B and cuts the amount of land available for potential lease in half. Plan A would lease between 470 acres to 560 acres out to a third party organization, where Plan B would lease 220 acres.

After speaking with the DNR representatives, Doty mentioned they prefer Plan A over Plan B.

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Tabatt also said he would like to see the DNR or another outside organization lease out the designated land or even own it outright.

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Council member John Ward said he feels comfortable voting to approve the plans, saying he is “more than happy to move forward as a council action.”

Mayor Darrel Olson said he voted with Tabatt last time the plan was presented to them.

“In full transparency, I voted with Zach originally,” Olson said. “I felt we had all of the land we needed from a parks perspective.”

Council member Mark Cross also reminded the council of his comments last meeting and voiced his concern with leasing the land out to a third party. His main concern from the previous meeting was if they were to lease the land, what the lease would contain, and how the city would get that land back if it ever decided it needed to.

Council member Connie Lyscio was absent.

SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com

Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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