DNR’s desire for public input on Fort Ridgely doesn’t include opinions on golf course

To the editor:

On Thursday, December 15, the DNR is holding an open house in New Ulm to invite “public input’ on its management plan for Fort Ridgely State Park. We want to remind citizens that there has never been any public input in the decision to close Fort Ridgely’s historic golf course. A small group of people in St. Paul, two or three, made the impactful decision without talking to any of the park’s users and supporters.

A Citizen Advisory Committee was created to advise the DNR on the management plan. It was made up of a diverse group of 15 talented people and would have been a good group to consider the future of the golf course within the larger context of the park. Unfortunately they were instructed to not talk about the golf course during their five meetings, which seems petty at best and heavy-handed at worst.

Like unruly children, they broke the rule several times. The golf course came up in discussion with no apparent opposition to it. Leonard Wabasha, Tribal Representative from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, said that if there was no new digging and sacred sites were preserved, park users “should golf all they want.”

The decision to close the course was announced last March. A vociferous outcry led to a hastily called public meeting. DNR representatives came with flip charts and said they wanted to hear alternatives to the golf course. The 120 citizens who attended on two days’ notice wanted only to talk about the golf course.

Soon after, at the urging of legislators, DNR officials met with the Friends of Fort Ridgely in St. Paul. They “apologized” for not involving the public. Then they proceeded to ignore the large number of ideas we offered to make the course viable including significant volunteer efforts.

In September, again at the urging of our legislators, the DNR said they would consider a proposal for a local group to operate the course. The offer would have relieved the DNR of all financial obligations. That was rejected out of hand. There was no offer to negotiate which would have indicated a serious consideration of the proposal.

So if you go to the DNR’s open house, know that you are getting an incomplete vision of Fort Ridgely State Park’s possible future. Citizens Advisory Committee members like the rest of us were not allowed to be part of the most significant decision concerning Fort Ridgely in our lifetimes: destroying the 90-year-old golf course.

The Friends hoped all along to work with the DNR to find a way to save this wonderful public asset. We are now working with legislators of both parties to seek a solution that recognizes the viewpoints of more than a few people in St. Paul.

John Fritsche

President

Friends of Fort Ridgely

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