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No horsin' around: county blocks unofficial park access

Washington County doesn't want people using a makeshift entrance to Lake Elmo Park Reserve.

County officials decided Tuesday to repair a section of damaged park fence that had allowed local residents easy, but unofficial, access to the park. They said it is unsafe - and condones property damage - to let people use the access point along 15th Street.

"Why would you reward bad behavior?" Commissioner Gary Kriesel asked Tuesday, noting that someone broke the fence and that a trail camera installed in the area was removed.

The decision came after Washington County Board Chairman Bill Pulkrabek of Oakdale, whose district includes Lake Elmo and parts of Woodbury, said a handful of residents who live near the fence opening on 15th Street are looking for a safe way to get their horses into the county park. Their alternative is to ride their horses on traffic-heavy 10th Street to an official park entrance.

Local resident Pam Eichenberger said it is dangerous to ride horses along 10th Street.

"We're not troublemakers," Eichenberger said of area residents. "We just want to be able to enjoy that beautiful park that is there for all of us."

Washington County Public Works Director Don Theisen said the county and the city of Lake Elmo plan a formal park entrance with signage and parking spaces along 15th Street, but have not settled on the details.

"We agree there should be a safe access, and that means doing it right," Theisen said of developing a formal entrance, rather than allowing people to use a "hole in the fence."

Pulkrabek suggested informal access be allowed until a formal entrance is created.

"I don't see why this is such a big deal," he said.

Pulkrabek dismissed concerns that allowing access through the fence opening could be a liability to the county. He said the park's swimming area could be a larger liability problem for the county.

Pulkrabek asked whether there have been any reported injuries by people using the 15th Street park access in the past 10 years. Theisen said he is not aware of any.

Commissioner Lisa Weik of Woodbury said access should be limited to formal entrances. Unauthorized entrances are not safe, she said.

The County Board voted 3-1 in favor of having the damaged fence repaired. Commissioners asked county officials to continue working with Lake Elmo on the formal park entrance plan.

Weik, Kriesel and Commissioner Dennis Hegberg voted in favor; Pulkrabek opposed the measure. Commissioner Myra Peterson of Cottage Grove was absent.