Another great reason to discover Cottage Grove will soon be open off the riverfront along Grey Cloud Island Drive South. Located on the lower part of the former Mississippi Dunes Golf Course, the …
Another great reason to discover Cottage Grove will soon be open off the riverfront along Grey Cloud Island Drive South. Located on the lower part of the former Mississippi Dunes Golf Course, the Dunes Reserve Park will allow both residents and visitors to experience the river up close.
The new park has been made possible thanks to the generosity and willingness to work with city officials of David and Dawn Gustafson, who owned the area the 19.91 acre riverfront park will be on. The Dunes Reserve will join a 12-acre extension of the Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), forming an uninterrupted shoreline with natural plants and scenery. The lands were purchased for $1 million with funds from the 2006 Land and Water Legacy Program, a bond referendum authorizing up to $20 million to be raised and spent on park uses, as well as a state DNR grant.
Come September, the Dunes Reserve will function as a natural area with trails, both paved and unpaved, reached by a public road easement. Whether the site will have a boat launch and larger master plan for the area still depends on a local option sales tax vote planned for 2024, or else park dedication fees from housing development, per Parks and Recreation Director Zac Dockter. “So far we’re just opening the natural spaces,” Dockter said of the new park.
Whereas the SNA must be kept as is without trails or other sign of human presence (save informal dirt paths), the Dunes Reserve will have a combination of paved trails as well as potential rock and grass sidepaths. Now with some 3,455 linear feet of walking trails, officials plan to add another 500 feet of paved trails, along with 4,200 feet of more natural rock and grass hiking trails.
As to housing development plans, Pulte Homes has pulled out from prior plans to build, while a firm from St. Michael named Rachel Development retains the option to build on the portion of the old golf course away from the river, although no building plans have been submitted to date. So, what’s there to see—at least potentially—when the Dunes Reserve opens?
There’s a parks management plan for that.
Contained under action items in the December 12, 2022, Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Commission packet is something called the Mississippi Dunes Natural Resources Management Plan, which details plant and animals in the area.
Starting out with small birds, species listed as possible in the vicinity of the Dunes Reserve area include the henslow’s sparrow, lark sparrow, loggerhead shrike, and bell’s vireo, with the northern long-eared bat—also a flyer, but not a bird, being a mammal. Also thought to be present is the north american racer, a non-venomous snake known for its speed.
As for mussel species nearby, they include higgins eye, sheepnose, and snuffbox, with the area also a potential habitat for insects like the rusty patched bumble bee, leonard’s skipper, and regal fritillary, a type of butterfly.
As to plants, the area and its vicinity includes hill’s thistle, seaside three-awn, louisiana broomrape, and purple sandgrass.
Located as a more or less natural landscape in otherwise urban territory, the Dunes Reserve and nearby Grey Cloud Dunes SNA thus provides much needed habitat for birds flying through.
Pending the outcome of a vote in 2024 on a local sales tax option to raise funds for things like a boat launch and play equipment as well as improvements at Hamlet Park and River Oaks Golf Course, the city hopes to eventually have a water trail extending within the area in and about Grey Cloud Island, connecting the Dunes Reserve with Hazen Mooer’s Park and Settler’s Island, and allowing residents as well as visitors a chance to explore the area without entering the river channel proper. Perhaps the best summation of what the river and its surroundings can offer comes from Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi,” which inspired the name of the old golf course many decades back. Writing of America’s longest river, Twain extolled the virtues of the waterway on Cottage Grove’s doorstep.
“The Mississippi River is well worth reading about,” he wrote in 1883. “It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.”
Thanks to cooperation between the city and a local landowner, residents don’t just have to read about it—they will soon be able to experience it.