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Crane Lake Visitors Center supporters have reason for optimism

David Colburn
Posted 2/12/20

CRANE LAKE—A multi-purpose visitors center and campground at Crane Lake could finally start moving from long-held dream to reality if Gov. Tim Walz’s request for $6.6 million of bonding …

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Crane Lake Visitors Center supporters have reason for optimism

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CRANE LAKE—A multi-purpose visitors center and campground at Crane Lake could finally start moving from long-held dream to reality if Gov. Tim Walz’s request for $6.6 million of bonding funds for the project is approved in May.
Ever since the founding of Voyageurs National Park in 1975 there’s been a desire among Crane Lake residents to have a visitors center in the community. While centers were built at Ash River, Lake Kabetogama, and Rainy Lake, a fourth planned for Crane Lake never made it off the drawing board.
“We’ve been trying to get one here since the park was formed,” Crane Lake Township Vice-chairman Jim Janssen said. “It’s the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, it’s the gateway to Voyageurs National Park, and we’re the closest access for people from Minneapolis. To have no center here is kind of silly.”
Crane Lake Township Chairman Jerry Pohlman said efforts to move forward languished over the years until past park superintendent Mike Ward and current superintendent Bob DeGross became active proponents of a center in Crane Lake. The township board and local residents joined in increased efforts to push the project forward. The proposal’s inclusion in the governor’s request is encouraging, he said.
“It’s obviously good news,” Pohlman said. “That’s going to go a long way to bring it to fruition for us.”
The township received $950,000 from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund in 2017 to purchase the former Borderland Resort property, providing nearly 30 acres for development of a visitors center and campground.
“It’s just as you’re coming into Crane Lake,” Pohlman said. “It’s right on the end of a little inlet that leads onto the lake. When you drive in it’s going to be the first thing that you see.”
While the National Park Service will be the primary user, the township will develop and own the property and lease it to the Park Service. That gives the township incentive to pursue additional tenants to generate revenue for operating expenses and paying down debt.
“We’d like to partner with the Forest Service because they have the BWCA,” Pohlman said. “Maybe a satellite office for the Customs and Border. We’re trying to grab as many partners as we can.”
While attracting funding, the project is still at the conceptual stage when it comes to design specifics. The visitor center wlll be designed to accommodate Park Service needs and requirements. There are numerous ideas for developing the campsite area, but as of yet no approved plan.
“It starts to overwhelm you at first,” Pohlman said. “We’ve got a number of concept drawings. They vary anywhere from 25 camping sites to 60, depending on how things get put in there. What the final plan is going to be is down the road.”
Another issue will be how users of the visitors center and campsite will access a new Department of Natural Resources boat launch and parking area to the east. Private ownership of property between the two areas will require negotiating either a purchase or access agreement.
“It’s in the long-range plan that there would be at least a walking trail between the two of the them,” Pohlman said. “They won’t necessarily be connected.”
While a 2019 funding proposal for the campground area indicated it could be fully developed by November 2022, Pohlman said the complexities of obtaining funding from multiple sources and securing additional partners make it difficult to pin down a date when the entire facility will be open.
“I don’t know that I can come close to answering that,” he said. “We’re working with government, and everything moves at the pace of Washington.”

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