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Fort Ridgely Golf Course Senate bill continues to evolve

ST. PAUL — Legislation supporting golf course operation by a non-state entity at Fort Ridgely State Park continues to evolve at the Minnesota Legislature.

On Tuesday, Fairfax Golf Course Committee members and their attorney met with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks & Trails Division senior management and its legal counsel to discuss the Fort Ridgely Golf Course lease.

“It was a very respectful and productive meeting with agreement on some core details, follow-up needed on others,” committee member Loran Kaardal of Morgan posted on Facebook. “Some details were not discussed as time ran out. The group agreed to meet March 28 to continue lease discussion.”

According to Senate File 723 1st engrossment, posted on the Journal of the Senate Thursday, liquor may be sold and consumed by the drink, golf carts may be operated. State park permits would not be required for motor vehicles on the golf course when it is operated by a non-state entity.

The legislation came in response to the DNR’s announcement early last year that it planned to close the golf course after the July Fourth weekend. The decision was based on several factors including high operational costs and low golf course use levels and that golf course operation requires significant use of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, large energy use and carbon emissions and large amounts of water for irrigation that are inconsistent with the DNR’s management of natural resources.

Responding to public pressure that included a number Friends of Fort Ridgely members who refuted the DNR’s low use claim because the DNR didn’t staff the golf course on weekends, the DNR pushed the golf course closure date back to the day after Labor Day Weekend.

Senate File 245, authored by Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, supported by a number of other legislators, received two Senate hearings and was held open for omnibus bill inclusion. The bill would amend state statutes so liquor may be sold and consumed and golf carts would be allowed to operate on the golf course.

“We want to save the golf course, a 90-year-old cultural treasure and work with the DNR on it,” Fairfax native Jim Weinzetl of Plymouth testified at a March 8 Senate hearing. “We’ll put signs on the golf course directing people away from sensitive areas. We will address environmental concerns. We’ll save the State of Minnesota thousands of dollars a year…It will cost the DNR more money to destroy the golf course than allow us to operate it. Please don’t take it away from us. If we fail, the DNR can take the golf course back. The DNR has nothing to lose and lots to gain.”

Fairfax City Administrator Marcia Siebert Volz testified she was “very upset the DNR proposed to plow up the state park golf course after spending $2 million to improve it ten years ago.”

With plans to raise $100,000 to operate the golf course this year, the Friends of Fort Ridgely have received more than $60,000 in donations and pledges.

The Friends of Fort Ridgely Committee and Mayflower Country Club discussed how they could cooperate, share costs and increase revenue for both golf courses at a March 13 meeting. Discussion included sharing fund-raising ideas like joint tournaments and events, equipment, personnel, and golf carts.

“The Friends do not want to be in competition with the Mayflower, rather find ways for both to prosper,” Weinzetl said. “I believe both golf courses can prosper by working together. Much of our marketing would be via social media with a goal of attracting people outside the area.”

Besides golf tournaments, fund-raising ideas included a picnic and games such as sack races, winter sledding, camp and golf along with hike and golf events.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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