Opponents speak out against Duluth campground renovation

The city of Duluth has developed ambitious plans that could transform a modest municipal campground into a recreational destination designed to serve all of West Duluth.

Indian Point
A state grant of $500,000 would transform Indian Point Campground on the St. Louis River. But opponents say the changes would be too drastic, and that the property should remain a traditional campground. (Clint Austin / News Tribune)

The city of Duluth has developed ambitious plans that could transform a modest municipal campground into a recreational destination designed to serve all of West Duluth.

If successful, that plan could bring a playground, volleyball courts, a

horseshoe/bocce ball area, a pavilion for gatherings, picnic shelters and plenty of new parking to Indian Point, a small peninsula jutting into the St. Louis River. But the project hinges on an application for a $500,000 Minnesota Legacy Grant that's due by the end of this month, and the Duluth City Council still isn't on board.

The council has tabled action on the grant until Oct. 24 to allow for additional public input and possibly a compromise or two.

Barb Hegg, who has lived just outside the campground gates for 39 years, fears current plans are overblown for the 27-acre site.


"They're going after a grant that would put a size 12 shoe on a size 7 foot," Hegg said.

There's still room for compromise, said Kathy Bergen, Duluth Parks and Recreation division manager. "It just can't be an all-or-nothing discussion," she said.

"We've already modified our plans dramatically, based on the first public meeting we had," said Lisa Potswald, Duluth's director of public administration, referring to an Oct. 5 forum that presented an overview of proposed improvements.

As a result of public comment at that event, Potswald said the size of the proposed parking lot was reduced and it was pushed back deeper into the park, away from the Heggs' home. She also said the park was redesigned to allow for continued group camping opportunities at Indian Point.

Butch Voelk, who has lived 34 years as a neighbor to Indian Point, said he has never had problems with campers there, but he fears that could change if the park is revamped as proposed.

"The traffic is going to get a lot worse with all the kids coming around, and there could be problems with partying," he said.

Current city plans call for downsizing the RV campsite area from the current 70 hookups to anywhere from 56 to 60. Potswald said it's not clear that will mean the park becomes less profitable. She said rates may be adjusted, and renting out the proposed new special-event pavilion to guests could provide additional revenue.

The campground brings in about $147,000 per year, and the city's share of that is 25 percent, or about $37,000. The city pays the operator of the Willard Munger Inn to manage the campground. That contract is up for another five-year period, beginning in 2012.


Potswald said the latest round of Legacy Grants came to light only after the state of Minnesota's government shutdown this summer. The original expectation was that the next opportunity to apply for such a grant would come in March 2012.

The city was forced to play catch-up. After identifying a suitable park for improvements, city staff developed a proposal and then sought public input. Potswald said it was a compressed timeline, but the state created a special incentive for people to apply.

Typically, Legacy Grants require a 25 percent match, but for this upcoming round, the local share was reduced to 10 percent.

"It's a golden opportunity," Bergen said.

A recent master plan identified West Duluth as a neighborhood that's currently underserved by parks.

"This (grant) would allow us to address a heavily used recreational area that's in serious need of repair and some TLC," said Joel Braun, president of the Duluth Parks and Recreation Commission.

"If people decide they don't want us to apply for the grant, that's fine. But we see this as a great opportunity to get funding for a place we feel has been neglected for a long time," said Potswald.

To learn more


Information about proposed improvements at Indian Point will be posted on the city of Duluth's web site. Online comments and suggestions will be accepted there.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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