County says state park transfer does not follow federal law, demands feds hold Walz administration accountable

Photo: Tony Webster via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Tomorrow the Walz administration plans to close the historic Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the public forever, transferring ownership to the Upper Sioux Community tribe following some 50 years of operation.

But on the eve of the controversial closure, the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners has issued a blistering letter to the National Park Service, asserting the state has failed to follow the legal process stipulated under federal law and regulations, while demanding the agency hold the Walz Administration accountable before considering final approval.

“We ask the National Park Service to recognize that the current process will not meet the need to find replacement recreational value. The National Park Service has the responsibility to hold the Minnesota Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources accountable to the law or deny the transfer.”

The county board seized on the failure of the DFL-controlled state legislature which last year approved the highly unusual transfer for failing to provide for a suitable replacement recreational area as required to offset the closure of the state park.

“We want to alert the National Park Service and our elected officials that the replacement process to date is not a sincere one and incapable of meeting the federal mandates attached to the land.”

“The process has been flawed from the start. The allocation of $5 million by the legislature towards this objective is completely arbitrary. Step one in this process should be public discussion on what is appropriate funding to meet the needs. That has not happened.”

“We ask our legislators to address this fundamental flaw by authoring legislation to provide a more appropriate allocation.”

The commissioners of the southwestern Minnesota county maintained an appropriation of at least $35 million would be needed to procure a suitable replacement for the 1,300 acre park that also provides “the opportunity to appreciate and understand the region’s historical and cultural heritage.”

The board members also criticized the stealth political process and lack of transparency on the part of the Walz administration that effectively locked local elected officials and residents out of the decision to permanently shut off the park to the public.

“The decision to transfer the park occurred without any public input. The greater community was not informed of the possibility of this transfer and as a result, had no opportunity to suggest possibilities such as partnerships that could benefit everyone.”

“The resulting process has placed the Department of Natural Resources in an adversarial position with the greater community it is to serve.”

The transfer of Upper Agency State Park to the tribe caught many residents by surprise. Public meetings held belatedly by the DNR to discuss options for alternative recreation in the area did little to smooth over lingering resentment. The Yellow Medicine County Board’s decision to call out the Walz administration could mark a turning point in the process or the last stand for “those who appreciate and benefit by the values this park provides.”