Community rallies to save St. Croix State Park name, Grindstone Dam gains legislative support

The community has responded to potential name change legislation of St. Croix State Park to Walter F. Mondale State Park, and a petition to save the name of the St. Croix State Park has been making its rounds. The petition, started by a group of people who live and work in the community, has received 481 signatures as of Sunday. A representative for the group said they have been in contact with Rep. Nathan Nelson who will be picking up the petition on Monday, April 22. Anyone who has not signed the petition and would like to, can do so at any of the following locations: Victory in Sandstone, Pat’s Hair Design in Hinckley, Bear Creek Tavern in Cloverdale, Tobies in Hinckley, or Chubby’s in Pine City.

At the annual Ham Bingo event, held Saturday, April 13, and put on by the Hinckley American Legion, Nicole Petersen and Megan Moran set up a table asking anyone interested in helping “Save St. Croix State Park’s Name” to sign the petition. That evening they had over 100 people sign.  

House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler (D-Golden Valley) is the author of the name change bill. 

The overall estimated cost to change the name of the state park is roughly $250,000, according to St. Croix State Park Manager Rick Dunkley, with National Historic Landmark replacement costs upward of $75,000 of the total amount. 

Tuesday morning, the Pine County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution requesting the removal of the renaming of St. Croix State Park from bill HF 2209, the omnibus Natural Resources Finance Bill. The county would also like an opportunity for public comment on the proposal, which has not been done so far. 

Initial efforts were made to change Interstate State Park to Walter F. Mondale State Park, but when the community spoke up against the name change, those efforts were thwarted, and Rep. Winkler moved north up the St. Croix to the next state park: St. Croix State Park. 

He then met with Hinckley city officials on March 30, Mayor Don Zeman and Councilman Tim Burkhardt, regarding the name change and expressed his support to save the Hinckley Dam. The dam removal has been an ongoing issue in the community with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) behind the removal. Both Zeman and Burkhardt are in favor of maintaining the dam as they believe it is important to the community, Zeman told the “Hinckley News” earlier this month. 

Zeman also reported he was “caught off guard” when Rep. Winkler told them about the name change of the state park and said he doesn’t remember Winkler asking for the city’s support. 

According to email sources, Rep. Winkler was not involved with any talks between the city and the DNR regarding the dam until this month. 

Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) stated his support for maintaining the dam but is not in support of the name change of the state park. “Representative Winkler’s willingness to help with keeping the dam is going to come with an expected trade. I support keeping the dam and the name “St. Croix State Park”; these are two separate issues. There has been a dam in various forms for nearly 150 years on the Grindstone River, there is a lot of history behind it. I have also heard from hundreds of people wanting to keep the name of the park, not a single voice in favor of the proposed change. I believe that Vice President Mondale’s legacy should be honored in a less controversial way than renaming a state park. I have heard many great suggestions such as a naming the St. Croix Scenic Byway after him. There are also parks that have been asking for funding for years to build a new visitors center which could be named in his honor,” said Nelson. 

Legislation was offered on behalf of Nelson (as he is new to the legislature and unable to make the proposal) to preserve or replace the dam. Nelson said there will be language in the Senate companion bill to do so as well. 

The omnibus Legacy house bill (HF 653) appropriates $150,000 from sales tax revenue toward funding “to maintain history of the Grindstone River Dam in Hinckley”. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

According to research done by the DNR in 2018 the estimated cost to reconstruct the dam would be between $1.2 and $1.5 million. Estimated costs to remove the dam are between $455,000 and $600,000. The estimated cost of a rock arch rapids (or fish ladder) is $900,000 to $1 million, according to the DNR.

Also on Tuesday, the Pine County board passed a resolution in support of the replacement of the Grindstone River Dam or installation of a fish ladder structure that maintains a reservoir, supporting the city’s wishes and not the DNR’s.

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