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Emily Welker, Published August 02 2013

Fargo man who drowned in water-filled gravel pit near Felton identified

FELTON, Minn. – Authorities may not be able to do much to tighten security at a water-filled gravel pit near here that claimed the life of a 26-year-old Fargo man who drowned in it Thursday night, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said Friday.

He said new information emerged Friday that indicates the gravel pit is not private property, as he previously believed. It instead belongs to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“On Monday, I’ll be getting a map from the county to see where the boundaries are – there’s still some private property out there,” said Bergquist, adding that the section of land where 26-year-old Joel Berge died was state land.

Bergquist said because the Felton pit was part of state property, it would likely be open to the public now.

In a previous interview, he told the Forum the land where Berge and his friends were swimming Thursday night was private and they were there illegally. Bergquist also said he did not intend to cite any of the group.

Bergquist said water-filled gravel pits in general are hard to police.

“We can’t put extra bodies out there, but we can patrol it more,” he said. The area is now clearly marked with “no trespassing” signs, and will be re-signed appropriately once it’s determined which parts of the area are now public.

Authorities have urged people to stay away from the gravel pit for many years, including after one incident in which a swimmer shattered his ankle while trying to jump off a cliff into the pit in July 2004.

Berge was swimming with about five friends in the southeast corner of the gravel pit when he disappeared underwater sometime before 7:30 Thursday night.

A friend of Berge’s called 911 about that time to report he had not seen his friend for about 20 minutes. Berge’s body was recovered about 9 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541