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The new Carver County Parks barge unit departs Lake Waconia shore for Coney Island. (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

A vessel added to the Carver County Parks equipment fleet made its maiden voyage last month.

The 36-foot barge unit, basically a pontoon on steroids, was acquired this year to support operations at Coney Island regional park and water related activities at other parks and projects in the county.

The unit is expected to make a weekly run to collect garbage from the island park, may be used for pumping and handling waste when toilet amenities are installed, and last week carried a skid loader to do some grubbing work for the next stage of park development.

The KANN commercial work barge, manufactured in Iowa, is marine grade aluminum construction and can be custom configured for a variety of applications, according to Sam Pertz, Parks and Recreation supervisor. The county’s new unit has considerable carrying capacity and is equipped with spuds, or stakes that can be embedded in a lake bottom to stabilize the unit for activities like dock placement or removal.

Parks crews are still getting their feet wet with the unit, Pertz said, and will likely be making some modifications, such as adding a winch to lift items and rails to be able to transport groups of people. A marine captain’s license will be required before that can occur, he noted. Meanwhile, the county continues to explore commercial options to ferry passengers to the island during peak times of the park season.

Carver County Parks personnel have seen a steady increase in use on Coney Island since the park was developed and officially opened in late summer of 2020, they say, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day conducted some 30 use estimates. Some days, they reported as many as 100 visitors on the island, other days very few.

The numbers will be input into a formula prepared by the Metropolitan Council to establish formal attendance estimates, which are used in evaluating resource needs, and securing park funding and grants for future improvements.

In terms of park development, the southern portion of the island has been opened up with an east to west trail, with picnic and day use features on either end. Now attention moves to the north side of the island where debris from an old hotel and cabins that existed when the island was vacation destination will be removed to open up more trails and more historical interpretation.

A team of volunteers from the Waconia High School Conservation Club was on the island over the weekend to help with clean-up and plantings. And this Saturday, Oct. 9, some 50 volunteers from Lions clubs from around Carver County will be on Coney Island to help.

In terms of amenities, the design of vault latrines that will bring toilet accessibility to the island is largely complete, but construction likely will not occur now until next year, according to parks officials.

On the mainland at Lake Waconia Regional Park, the construction schedule for a waterfront services building also has been pushed back while the architect works through design modifications and the county parks department looks to secure additional funding to address cost overruns related to the increasing cost of building materials and energy efficiency building features. So, project bidding and building construction, originally expected to occur later this summer and fall, likely now will be pushed back to 2022-2023.

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