Move sets stage for public park near south Pelican Lake shore

By Thomas Hintgen
Special Correspondent

This excerpt from an Otter Tail County plat book shows the proposed Echo Bay Regional Park site, southwest of Pelican Lake and Fish Lake. Listed as owner is the “Pelican River Land Company LLC.” The largely undeveloped characteristics of the parcels include woods and wetlands. The site is just north of Highway 59 and the Dunvilla area.

The county board of commissioners, on Nov. 23, approved the acquisition of land adjacent to Fish Lake, south of Pelican Lake and northeast of Pelican Rapids.

In August of 2020 a landowner expressed interest in donating 165 acres of land to Otter Tail County. Permitted uses, part of a Echo Bay Park Master Plan, include a public park and nature center.

In late 2020 the five-person county board approved proceeding with a master plan to ensure there is a shared vision for the property by Otter Tail County, the Minnesota Land Trust and the property owner.

“Both the landowner and Minnesota Land Trust are supportive of the final plan,” said Nick Leonard, Deputy County Administrator, to members of the county board on Nov. 23.

“Accepting the land donation is consistent with the county’s long-range strategic plan,” Leonard added.

Parks and open spaces were consistently highlighted throughout the public engagement processes with a desire to preserve what exists and explore opportunities to expand outdoor recreational opportunities.

The action by the board directs county staff to execute the necessary documents for the land transfer northeast of Pelican Rapids.

Otter Tail County pledges to work on this project with the support of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

The commission was established in 2013 to carry out system planning and provide recommendations to the state legislature for grants funded by the state Legacy tax for the establishment of additional parks and trails.

Land was originally targeted for a controversial development

This area near Fish Lake was, 14 years ago, part of a cluster development plan that met with public opposition. The plan, known as “The Preserve at Echo Bay,” was eventually withdrawn by the original developers who first proposed the cluster plan in 2003. Area lake property owners, and others, said the proposed development of condos was a bad idea, also citing possible boat congestion.

In contrast, many of those same property owners support the current plan to include a public park and nature center.

County values property at about $805,000

The four separate parcels that comprised the defunct Echo Bay commercial development were bought by an un-named private party, for about $2.9 million in 2007 and 2010. The Otter Tail County Assessor’s office listed the acreage at estimated market value of $805,000.

Ownership of the parcels is recorded as Pelican River Land Company LLC. There is no name referenced as owner, but Dean Hoffrogge is identified as secretary-treasurer of the land company. Hoffrogge is also a member of the task force that helped develop the Echo Bay master plan.

Only third county park in Otter Tail

Echo Bay would be only the third county owned and managed park. Phelps Mill is the most familiar Otter Tail County owned public park. It is the site of the widely known Phelps Mill Art Fair each July. Ft. Juelson, near Underwood, is the second, though it is little more than a monument—calling attention to a fort that was quickly cobbled together as a defense during fears of a Sioux uprising in 1876. Ft. Juelson site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 16, 2013.

The Pelican Lake area park would create an unusual green space in the heart of the lakes area, located near the south shore of Pelican Lake, and north of the busy Dunvilla-Lake Lizzie neighborhood along U.S. Highway 59.