Coney Island (of the West) has welcomed generations of inhabitants and visitors: from Native Americans, to flamboyant French merchant Emile Amblard, to resort-goers, cabin dwellers and boaters. It was even a training location for the University of Minnesota football team in the early 1900s.
Now the island stands silent in the middle of Lake Waconia awaiting other visitors who will come to Coney Island as it is transformed to Lake Waconia Regional Park. But that probably won’t be until later in 2018, according to Marty Walsh, Carver County Parks director.
Because of the unique character of the island – it was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 – park development is occurring in a few phases with multiple stakeholders involved in the process.
The initial step involved transfer of ownership of the island to the county from Norm and Ann Hoffman, who donated the land and money for a park that would preserve nature and tell the history of the island.
Phase I of park development occurred in 2016 and involved an historical and archeological study of the site. Phase II was a field study conducted in 2017, which involved shovel tests that uncovered cultural artifacts from Native American communities, such as tools and pottery.
Now attention turns toward translating that history, securing necessary government permits and approvals, cleaning up the island, and creating initial access points and an east-west trail connection.
“Our intent in the early phases was to do our due diligence in terms of preserving integral historical elements” Walsh said. The ultimate goal is not to turn Coney Island into a theme park or historical re-creation, he notes, but rather to “make it a natural place for adventure and discovery.”
One component of the master park plan is an interpretive trail that will highlight the history of both Native American communities and European settlers, who developed homes, hotels, cabins and boathouses on the island. The trail will likely integrate an old concrete walkway that still exists from that period. There will also be two primary day use areas with docks, picnic areas, fishing piers, beach, playground and other amenities, and an area with campsites for individual and group use.
Before that development occurs, however, several government agencies, such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Carver County Land & Water Services still need to approve plans and issue permits. Other considerations include law enforcement and emergency planning, and options for getting visitors to and from the island.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through the process,” Walsh said. “And we continue to ask for people to stay off the island until clean-up is completed, and we get initial access points and trails established later this year.”
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