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Plans take shape for new park

Three concept plans presented last week offer a glimpse at what the future might hold for a more than 400-acre regional park planned for Empire Township.

The plans, presented to Dakota County's physical development committee, offer visions of a park with typical amenities like hiking trails, picnic grounds and camping areas, but also with unique features like extensive wetland areas and something called an agboretum that could present opportunities for education on farming and plots for community gardeners.

The concept plans, developed with consultant Sanders, Wacker, Bergly Inc., are the latest step in a process that began when the county bought the Empire Township land in 2008. The county has set aside $1.375 million in 2012 for the first phase of work on the site.

In the meantime, the county wants to know what residents think of its ideas. The county's parks department will present the proposals to the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, both of which own land adjacent to the park, and to the Empire Town Board. There will be a public meeting in April.

"Really, the focus here is to go out and seek public comment that will help us refine the three concepts to a preferred plan," said Steve Sullivan, the county's parks and recreation director.

All three concepts include a dog park and a disc golf course at the northern end of the property. All three also include picnic areas, campgrounds and a visitor's center that could include a cafe or restaurant. They differ in precise layouts for some of the features, and in the ways traffic would be routed through the property.

The parkland features rolling hills and a number of wetland areas unlike what is available at other regional parks in Dakota County. That makes possible unique features like a blind area for viewing wildlife.

Two of the concepts feature an agboretum, a partnership with the University of Minnesota that could serve as the hub for a number of educational opportunities.

"Everything from what they're doing there in terms of the traditional row crops you might find as well as some of the new things that are occurring," Sullivan said.

All three plans feature some degree of collaboration with the U of M and the DNR. The three properties together provide roughly 4,000 acres of public natural space, and Sullivan said the organizations will work together to make the best and most efficient use of the land.

Talks about how to do that are still in the early stages, but in addition to the agboretum Sullivan said joint efforts could include shared office space on the property.

"That's something we're trying to flesh out," Sullivan said.

The public comment meeting for the concept plans had not been scheduled as of early this week. For more information visit the county's web page at

After taking public input Sullivan hopes to present a final concept plan to the county board later this summer.