State seeks public input only after ‘stealthy’ deal ceding state park to tribe

The Walz administration kept a tight lid on the behind-the-scenes deal-making in recent months to turn over ownership and control of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux tribal community. Residents and local officials in Yellow Medicine County complained bitterly last spring in the West Central Tribune over the state’s blatant lack of transparency, public meetings or engagement with the community until the highly controversial transfer was effectively a done deal.

[Yellow Medicine County Commissioner John] Berends said Fort Snelling State Park and many other state parks also have significant cultural and historical importance to Indigenous people in the state. “Are you guys prepared to do this with all of your parks?” he asked.

He also expressed concerns about what he termed the “stealthy nature of this.”

“This has been going on behind the scenes and all of a sudden it pops up and there is no time to talk to the legislators, no time to get to the Legislature. It could have been done a different way,” Berends said.

It’s too late to do anything to discuss or question the giveaway of the historical state park that was a major battle site in the 1862 Dakota Sioux Uprising. So the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants residents to forgive and forget. The DNR website implores the public to weigh in on the process, not to save the soon to be nonexistent Upper Sioux Transfer Agency State Park but on recreational alternatives to be located somewhere, someday in southwestern Minnesota.

Recent legislation directs the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to transfer land at Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community. A critical component of this process will be to enhance and/or create new outdoor recreational opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley. The DNR understands the importance of outdoor recreation in the region and will use your feedback to help guide next steps.

Please fill out the below feedback form to tell us about: 1) your past interactions with Upper Sioux Agency State Park and the Minnesota River Valley, and 2) your hopes and ideas for future outdoor recreation in the Minnesota River Valley region. Thank you!

But at the DNR’s first public meeting in Granite Falls, many residents were evidently in no mood to talk about recreational alternatives to a park that remains an important gravesite to this day for both sides of the conflict. The happy talk from the DNR gave way to a reality check, according to the West Central Tribune.

While the DNR representatives expressed optimism about the upcoming process, their enthusiasm was not shared by all those attending the Granite Falls afternoon session.

Greg Renneke, a member of the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners, expressed his displeasure. “We’re all here because we don’t want this to happen,” he said.

No legislators were present for the session, and questions raised by attendees as to why there were no opportunities for public input prior to the the legislation’s approval were not answered.

The state legislature appropriated just $5 million to swap out the state park. So DNR officials actually urged audience members to contact their representatives to lobby for more funding.

It is even possible to develop a new park, but Pierce and Roemhildt acknowledged that the allocated funds would not be able to replace the acreage in the park.

Both urged that the area consider seeking legislative support for obtaining more state funding for replacing the recreational opportunities.

Good luck with that. Residents in the Granite Falls area may contact their state representatives alright, but most likely to complain about the state’s “stealthy” methods that will result in most Minnesotans never having the opportunity to visit and learn from the history of the almost certain to be closed to the public Upper Sioux Agency State Park.