Friends of Fort Ridgely sad to suspend operations with DNR

For more than 20 years, the Friends of Fort Ridgely has been one of the most active organizations of its type in the state. Because of the Friends, hundreds of visitors were brought to Fort Ridgely State Park and thousands of dollars were raised for the park and historic site.

It is with deep regret that the membership of the Friends of Fort Ridgely voted at their Annual Meeting in November to suspend operations until some future date. It was clear there are employees of the DNR who did not want to work with our organization, which made for an untenable relationship. Our hope is a different management group will be interested in working with the Friends, hopefully sooner than later.

We have been concerned about a reduction in services at Fort Ridgely for several years. The closing of the golf course was a final blow. The way the DNR went about that proved to be a textbook example of how not to engage with the citizen-taxpayers of Minnesota.

The DNR may have had legitimate concerns about the profitability of the course. That should have rightly led to approaching the public to see how much they valued the course, what ideas they had to maintain its viability, and what kind of support they were willing to offer. The DNR was never open to that discussion.

We are aware there have been times in the 90-year history of the Golf Course when it’s future was uncertain. When the sand and artificial turf greens were in place, the value of the course was negligible. But after the $2.1 million renovation along with the work of the talented staff, it was a recreational asset worth several million dollars to our region. For the state to destroy that without input from citizens was wasteful at best and reckless at worst.

We would like to thank all our area legislators for the support they gave us in this fight. To force an unwilling state agency to engage with the public was a major accomplishment.

We appreciate the support we got from all over the state, but especially from many residents of Fairfax. If the course would have opened as planned, a great deal of positive publicity would have been created for the city of Fairfax. Every media outlet in the state was ready to tell this story. It was more than disappointing when the votes of two city councilors ended the project suddenly.

The Golf Course Advisory Board were absolutely committed to the Golf Course not costing the city of Fairfax one cent. There was enough money pledged to run the course for one, maybe two seasons, with no financial risk. When the project was ended abruptly, the city was left with some bills to pay. That was not our choice.

We appreciated working with the Mayflower Country Club during the planning process. At some point, several of their members made it clear they did not want that relationship to continue. That is regrettable, as many of our users were interested in dual memberships. We would have brought golfers to both courses to play 18 holes. Interest in Fort Ridgely’s Golf Course reached well beyond this region. We are sorry that Mayflower will not see those golfers.

Unfortunately, the DNR turned its back on some of its strongest supporters at a time when the reputation of the DNR in rural Minnesota is tattered. Many talented and dedicated people do good work for the DNR. It was only a few within that agency who made it clear they would never work productively with us.

Several examples of pettiness left a bad taste. A Citizen’s Advisory Group was created and was told they could not discuss the Golf Course. Journalists were required to purchase permits for fear they were going to write a negative story. For the first time the Friends were required to pay for a permit to host School Days, an event that annually brought several hundred children to the park and museum. We were told the DNR was concerned how we would use proceeds from that. In fact, every single dollar ever raised by the Friends of Fort Ridgley has gone to the park and historic site. Every single dollar ever. It is a shame they have closed themselves to that support.

At some time in the future we hope to activate our organization again. All of our members love Fort Ridgely State Park. It is sad that that there have been so many reductions there culminating with the destruction of the unique and beautiful Golf Course. We hope that a next generation of DNR officials will treat the park better and the citizens of Minnesota with more respect.

The Friends of Fort Ridgely Board, John Fritsche, President