Big Island Park opens a new chapter

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The town of Orono finalized its purchase of the eastern part of the island in 2006 – three years after it had been used as a veterans camp for more than 80 years – and over the past five years, the final touches have been made to the island.

On Thursday, a ribbon cut marked the reopening of the island.

“It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful,” Dennis Walsh, Mayor of Orono, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about the finalization of the project.

“As Minnesotans, as a city, we all have a history and we’ve tried to preserve our history to show people what we have,” Walsh said of some of the island’s new features. “[Also that] we can be good stewards of our community and our assets, and not just put a bunch of houses here, ”he said.

The only way to get there is by boat, but once on the island it is accessible to everyone; the mayor said accessibility was an important goal of the project.

New features include:

  • American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliant Amenities:
    • Walking path,
    • Picnic tables,
    • Bathrooms,
    • Docks,
  • Signs with photos and information on the history of the Big Island,
  • Overlook areas with lake views.

An ADA-compliant trail surrounds Big Island Nature Park. | KSTP-TV

The cleanup was also an important step. According to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District – which was also a large part of the project – up to 150 tonnes of brush and trash were removed from the island.

The island has a very eclectic history. From its roots as a home for Native Americans to an amusement park opened in 1906, to a game farm that helped Minnesota’s pheasant population flourish, and more recently as a camp for veterans and their families, Big Island has played a number of roles in the community.

Orono administrator and engineer Adam Edwards said that in addition to accessibility, the project also aimed to focus on preservation and give visitors the opportunity to appreciate the island’s past. .

This concrete staircase and steps are of Big Island origin.  |  KSTP-TV
This concrete staircase and steps are of Big Island origin. | KSTP-TV

“It’s pretty amazing how this piece of land has been reused and reused over the years,” said Edwards. “[We’re glad] be part of this heritage, and [with] set up something that has been there for years and years and years for others to enjoy.

This last part of the overhaul cost $ 753,631. Some contributions include:

  • State Bond Grant (administered by DEED) – $ 300,000.
  • Grant from the Department of Natural Resources – $ 200,000.
  • Big Island Legacy Fund – $ 82,100.

The beach along the east side of the Big Island Nature Park. | KSTP-TV

Visiting the natural park is free. Boats can either moor at the docks at the southern end of the eastern part of the island or at the beach on the eastern side of Big Island. People have to take their waste with them off the island.

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