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A park in the making

A bridge connects the parking lot to a commons area at the new Whitetail Woods Regional Park in Empire Township. The first phase of the park is scheduled to open in September, with future phases already planned.1 / 2
Visitors walk a trail to Empire Lake during a tour last week.2 / 2

Tucked away off a gravel stretch of 170th Street is the new Whitetail Woods Regional Park, a gem few know about, but many will want to discover.

The 456-acre regional park isn’t open to the public yet, but Dakota County officials promise it will be ready this fall. With its central location in Empire Township, Whitetail Woods promises to provide a multitude of recreation opportunities to residents of Empire, Farmington and Rosemount.

The park is being constructed in four phases, according to Josh Kinney, senior project manager with Dakota County’s capital project management division. The first phase is nearing completion, and the park will be open to the public yet this year.

Entering the park at 17100 170th Street, visitors will first pass an area designated for camper cabins. Three cabins are being constructed as part of the first phase. While there are currently no plans for a camper lot in the park, future plans include up to 30 cabins, depending on future demand. Each group of cabins will include easy access to handicapped-accessible bath houses.

“We’re just getting through Phase 1 here, but there’s a lot of room to grow and a lot of potential here,” Kinney said.

Commons Area

About a mile south of the cabins is the commons area, the hub of activity for Whitetail Woods Regional Park.

Coming into the parking lot — which has 106 spaces — visitors will be surrounded by recreational opportunities. There are up to 4.1 miles of soft surface hiking/snow shoeing trails and 4.3 miles of cross country ski/hiking trails planned for the park.

One of those trails leads to Empire Lake, which Kinney calls “the star of the show.”

The lake will offer opportunities for future activity, but in the meantime visitors will be able to participate in many other activities. There is a large picnic shelter with a serving kitchen, outdoor fire pit and restrooms on site. The shelter has dividers in place so it can be rented out for one large activity, or to several smaller groups.

A nature play area is being constructed to the west of the picnic shelter, with natural amenities — climbing boulders, a sand box, forest play and observation patio and so on — children. A 53-foot sledding hill will be available on in the winter.

There will also be picnic tables and grills located on the small hills surrounding the picnic shelter, Kinney said.

The shelter will face an amphitheater, where entertainment will be scheduled throughout the year. The design of the amphitheater is such that it will be visible from the shelter, the nearby picnic tables and other points around the facility.

“This is one of the first new parks Dakota County has done in a long time,” said Taud Hoopingarner, director of operations management for the county. “We wanted to make sure we did it right.”

Empire and Farmington officials got to see the park first hand during a tour last week. They were pleasantly surprised.

“This is really one-stop shopping for recreation,” Farmington parks and recreation director Randy Distad said. “You’ve got everything out here. It really covers everything you want to do outdoors.”

The overall master plan for the park also calls for a 20-acre off-leash dog park; a 9-hole, 16-acre disc golf area; several smaller water play areas; a wedding arbor; and trail connections to the abutting Vermillion Highlands Recreation and Wildlife Management Area.

A grand opening for Whitetail Woods Regional Park is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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