DNR public meetings reveal state park transfer to tribe remains controversial

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

The Department of Natural Resources never sought public input before the controversial transfer of the historic Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community was essentially a done deal. The stealth giveaway approved by the DFL-controlled state legislature means the public will likely no longer have access to the grounds, a major battle site in the 1862 Dakota Sioux Uprising. 

After the stunning announcement, however, the DNR quickly moved to engage the public in a discussion of the recreational opportunities in the Minnesota River valley that should serve as a consolation prize for the loss of the park. The West Central Tribune says the agency will hold another public “working session” next week in Granite Falls.

Legislation passed in 2023 directs the DNR to convey all state-owned land within the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community. A part of the process is to identify new or enhanced outdoor recreation opportunities region.

This is the second working session, and the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. Prior public input and discussions have identified many outdoor recreation investment ideas in the area, according to a news release.

A close reading of the DNR’s preliminary summary of the 140 public comments made online and at a June public meeting may provide a preview of what the agency should expect next week. One section titled “Varied Opinions on this Process” makes it clear many still prefer to talk about the land deal itself more than what comes next.

The DNR understands people have a wide variety of opinions about transferring lands at Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community…The feedback clearly shows this is an important issue to people and to the community. People expressed a range of support and opposition to the land transfer, as well as support and opposition to the DNR’s processes.

The critical comments also focused on the damage that will be done by preventing visitors from outside the Upper Sioux Community from visiting the historical site.

Some of the feedback focused on the importance of Upper Sioux Agency State Park and the Upper Sioux Agency Historic Sites for Indigenous and Minnesota history. Comments emphasized the need to continue to tell the important stories of this place, including the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Some questioned how these stories could be effectively told without public access to these specific locations.

In addition, the reputational damage done to the DNR throughout the process came through loud and clear. These respondents evidently preferred for any reparations in the way of new opportunities to offset the loss of the state park to be managed by local government and groups.

Some comments expressed a preference for investments in local opportunities to be managed by local governments and organizations. A few of these comments noted their distrust of the DNR and a lack of a commitment to maintain facilities at some outdoor recreation areas.

The DNR provided only a summary, rather than verbatim remarks, of the give and take with participants through late August. The working session on November 8 will reveal whether local resentment over the deal continues to overshadow a willingness to move forward.