City closes deal on nature preserve at Bailey Point


A peaceful scene at Bailey Point. Photo by Chris Leeseberg

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Through the years Bailey Point was the site of a golf course, a tourist camp and a high school football field.

The county fair was also once located in the area and a battle between the Dakota and the Ojibwe was fought in the vicinity years ago.

Now Bailey Point is Elk River’s newest park.

The city of Elk River closed on the purchase Nov. 20, buying the 26-acre boot-shaped peninsula from John and Nancy Babcock.

The point is located west of downtown Elk River where the Elk and Mississippi rivers meet.

Dave Anderson, who chairs the Elk River Parks and Recreation Commission, described it as “a gem.”

Anderson said since 2000, Bailey Point has been the park and recreation commission’s No. 1 acquisition priority.

“It is just absolutely awesome,” Anderson said of the site.

This old but undated map of Bailey Point shows an Elk River Golf Course and an Elk River Tourist Camp, as well as the Sherburne County Fairgrounds. Part of the golf course was across the Elk River on the Houlton property, and accessed by a small bridge. Map courtesy of Elk River Parks and Recreation.

It has 3,300 feet of largely untouched shoreline, according to Elk River Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker.

“This is a very unique piece of property, just because of its location and the historic value that it presents to the community,” he said.

The property was purchased with the use of a Natural and Scenic Area Grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and a conservation easement through the Minnesota Land Trust.

The city paid the appraised value of $99,150 for Bailey Point. The DNR grant will cover $39,000 of the $99,150 purchase price and the city is paying the balance.

The Minnesota Land Trust paid an additional amount to the Babcocks for the conservation eassement.

Hecker said no major development is planned for the park, which is envisioned as a nature preserve, and it will not open to the public until next spring.

“The parks commission is excited about looking at this property and talking about what it is going to become as a park. We’ll start that process in the new year,” he said.

The DNR grant and the Minnesota Land Trust both restrict the development of the park, prohibiting active recreational uses like athletic fields and playgrounds and ensuring that the land will be preserved in its natural state for future generations, he said.

Hecker looks for things like hiking trails to possibly be developed this summer. A canoe/kayak (not boat) landing on the Elk River is also a future possibility.

John Babcock said they worked with the Minnesota Land Trust to put a conservation easement on the property to keep it in as natural a state as possible.

The point is home to an active bald eagle’s nest, he said, and they have seen a variety of other wildlife there including deer, coyotes, turkeys, otters and foxes. It’s so close to downtown but still feels as though it is teeming with wildlife, he said.

Babcock hopes people not only in the neighborhood but Elk River in general will appreciate the park.

While Elk River has a number of attractive, well-used parks, Bailey Point is “kind of unique,” he said.

“I think it will add to the quality of life in Elk River,” he said. “… I hope that the city and the city residents enjoy it. It’s an attractive, unique spot.”

The Babcocks had owned Bailey Point since 2003. Prior to that it had been in the Bailey family for years.

The city, meanwhile, has $40,000 in its proposed 2013 budget to put in a permanent entrance gate, a sign and a parking lot at Bailey Point.

“We’ll have some public input as to what this parking lot is going to entail,” Hecker said. Neighbors in the area were concerned about people parking in the street, and Hecker said they want to have a parking lot to ensure that doesn’t occur.

There also will be some archaeological activity at the site this summer.

As part of the DNR grant, the state is requiring that an archaeological survey and dig be done at Bailey Point this summer. The city is working with St. Cloud State University (SCSU) on the dig and the public is expected to be able to participate in aspects of it, Hecker said.

The city is also working with SCSU on signs for the park. Hecker said they are expected to include information about the geological, historical and archaeological aspects of the site. QR codes on the signs will allow people to access information that can be updated over time.

Hecker looks for interpretive signage to be installed at Bailey Point in the next year or two.

“You’ll be able to take a nice walk and learn about Elk River,” he said.