Uproar over plans for beloved Crookston park
CROOKSTON — A park popular with many residents as a green space may soon become an avenue for business and tourism if a proposed RV park is given the green light by the City Council.
A 4½-acre development with campsites for recreational vehicles would be built partially on land that is now part of Castle Park, located on the city’s west side by the Red Lake River.
Generations of area residents have played in the park and, after it was used as a construction site in the 2000s, residents rebuilt it.
Dozens of them spoke at the most recent of several public information meetings about the proposed development Thursday night. Comments ranged from noting environmental responsibilities to concerns about the safety of children who play in Castle Park.
“(The RV park) really changes the environment of this natural space.... We just think we should keep parks intact,” said Shirley Iverson, member of the Castle Park Preservation Group. The organized group is only about 15 to 20 people, Iverson said, but they have almost 500 signatures on a petition against the RV development at Castle Park.
The RV park, which would have 40 to 45 RV campsites, would benefit the city by drawing in tourists and providing a place for seasonal American Crystal Sugar workers to stay, said City Administrator Shannon Stassen. The city should be helpful to a local employer and welcoming to visitors who want to experience the community, he said.
The City Council has not made a decision yet on whether the RV park will be built, Mayor David Genereux told the audience at Thursday’s meeting.
But Stassen said, “Plans would ideally begin soon to move forward.”
The proposal is on the agenda for the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, which is after the regular City Council meeting at 7 Monday night, said council member Dana Johnson. It is possible that the proposal could be voted on in the regular City Council meeting if a council member brings it up, she said.
The city of Crookston has been working with private developer Jeremy Jennen, of Hillsboro, N.D., for about two months on the idea of an RV park in Castle Park, Stassen said at the meeting.
According to the proposal, the city would sell about 2 acres of the 28-acre Castle Park to Jennen, who would combine that land with 2½ acres of land from a private landowner for the RV park, said Council member Tom Jorgens, whose ward includes Castle Park.
Years ago, the city had decided its current campground at Central Park would not be sufficient for Crookston’s growing tourism industry, and Castle Park was chosen as the best site for a new campground, Stassen said. The city tried multiple times to get state grants for a Castle Park campground, but was unsuccessful.
When Jennen came to the city wanting to build an RV park where American Crystal workers could stay, similar to the one he runs in Hillsboro, it was “an opportunity for an outside investor to come in and do something we’ve wanted to do for years,” Stassen said.
City officials have visited the Hillsboro campground and deemed it safe and well-maintained, Jorgens said.
Several Crookston residents said the RV park plans were not communicated well to the public and said the plans are confusing because they continue to change. Some said city officials made plans for the park before seeking public input.
“The thing that bugs me the most is all the homework you’ve done, it’s after the fact,” said resident Loren Johnson. “We’ve said a lot of things, and it’s redundant.... You’re supposed to listen to us, but you won’t.”
His comments, along with the other residents’ testimonies, were met with applause from the crowd.
One reason why Castle Park is a preferred site, Stassen said, is that the infrastructure necessary for an RV park is there. He added that plans for the park keep changing because the city is trying to accommodate residents’ concerns.
Another reason why Castle Park was chosen is because the RV park is not only for American Crystal workers, but also for tourism, and visitors would be attracted to Castle Park, Stassen said.
“The things that attract (visitors to Castle Park) are the things that attract you to Castle Park,” Stassen said.
Still, residents insist there must be another way.
A park reborn
“Castle Park is a lovely, natural park,” Iverson said.
Many people at the meeting Thursday recalled memories of playing in the park as children and now bringing their children or grandchildren there.
There is an outdoor stage for summer events, a dog park, a playground and a deep-wooded area with trails, Iverson said. “The whole idea is that you get kids back in nature and outside to play.”
When Crookston built needed flood protection in the 2000s, Castle Park “was destroyed” as it was a site for storing dirt from the construction project, Iverson said. There used to baseball diamonds and an ice rink there, she said.
In about 2010, “people started to have a vision, and so did the city,” Iverson said. Time and money was donated to rebuilding the park, she said.
The dog park and play space have been added in the past two years, she said.
Leah Winjum, a childcare provider in Crookston, said she brings her day care children to Castle Park. “It’s letting kids experience nature,” she said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Although city officials have talked about adding trees around the proposed RV park site as a buffer between the RVs and the children’s play space, residents say that isn’t enough.
The RVs will still disturb the nature, where some trees are more than 100 years old, Iverson said.
Council member Jorgens said he was one of the people who worked to revitalize Castle Park, but he also sees the benefits of sharing the park with visitors through an RV park that promotes tourism. He hasn’t decided which way he’ll vote on the project yet, he said.
“The issue is more complicated than some would make it,” he said. “It’s not a question of ‘Who appreciates the park more?’ It’s a question of ‘Can we develop without negative impacts?’”