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Nathan Bowe, Forum Communications Co., Published September 30 2010

$3.2 million plan for Detroit Mountain unveiled

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Under an ambitious $3.2 million draft plan unveiled this week, Detroit Mountain near here would become home to a full-service ski area and new visitor’s center within three years.

The year-round regional park, complete with campsites, disc golf and trail systems, will feature Nordic skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and mountain biking for outdoor enthusiasts.

The plan would give Becker County the land and all the amenities for $340,000. A nonprofit group called Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Inc. would partner with the county and run the ski area.

The county board went into closed session Tuesday to discuss purchase negotiations for the Detroit Mountain property, but no action was taken.

The preliminary plan calls for the group to raise funds and contribute $980,000 toward the total project cost.

A yet-to-be-obtained regional park grant through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would pay for $1.68 million. The county would contribute $320,000 for property acquisition and another $20,000 for contingencies.

“This document is a big bite,” supporter Barry Nelson said, adding that he wondered if the group was trying to do too much, too fast. He would like to see the group focus on the basics of obtaining the land and creating a regional park, then easing into downhill-ski operations.

Opponents on the county board, like Larry Knutson, said, “As far as I’m concerned, this (plan) is just paper.”

The group can’t move forward without the county, which would allow the project to be eligible for state grants, and to shelter under the county’s lawsuit cap, which will allow the group to purchase liability insurance at an affordable rate, said Aaron Lauinger, secretary of the DMRA board.

The county would use $250,000 in economic development funds to pay for most of its share, and parks and trails funds for the rest, said Economic Development Association Coordinator Guy Fischer.

“It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, the property becomes the county’s. We’ll be getting $3.2 million in land and infrastructure for 10 to 15 percent of the cost,” Fischer said.

The DNR grant program pays up to 60 percent of the total cost for a qualifying project, Lauinger noted, and this one fits the criteria.

Under the draft proposal, the 260-acre site would be purchased and developed in stages over three years.

It operated as a private ski area until 2004, and much of the infrastructure – roads, parking lot, lodge, electrical, water, two of five lifts, and ski slopes and trails remain intact.

A system of Nordic ski trails would include five kilometers the first year, with the opportunity to add another nine miles in the next few years. DNR trail money and volunteer help from the high school Nordic ski team would help keep costs low.

Mountain bike trails would include a beginner loop, intermediate loop and advanced loop, with built-in challenges and a standard-sized graded surface.

The second and third year of the plan includes buying and installing three ski lifts to serve all nine runs, at a total cost of $650,000.

Bowe writes for the Detroit Lakes News Tribune