Bills call for transferring ownership of state park to Upper Sioux

GRANITE FALLS — Members of the Yellow Medicine County Board were visibly surprised when a briefing from representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources at their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday left more questions than answers.

Scott Roemhildt, South Region director, and Ann Pierce, Parks and Trails director, briefed the commissioners on the progress of bills recently introduced in both chambers of the state Legislature. House Bill 2388 and SF 2250 would transfer ownership of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux community.

SF 2250 Section 1 reads in part, “(a) The commissioner of natural resources must convey for no consideration all state-owned land within the boundaries of Upper Sioux Agency State Park to the Upper Sioux Community. By September 15, 2023, the commissioner must identify all state-owned land within Upper Sioux Agency State Park and any funding restrictions or other legal barriers to conveying the land. Lands without restrictions or barriers to being conveyed must be conveyed to the Upper Sioux Community by December 1, 2023.”

The park is visited by more than 30,000 people every year and is known for its scenic views, camping, bird watching, hiking trails, and historic sites.

The Upper Sioux Community has expressed their interest in reclaiming ownership of the land for some time but no representatives were present at the meeting.

Commissioner John Berends said he sees the concern for social justice but expressed concern the move would create divisions in the larger Yellow Medicine community.

Pierce told the commissioners the governor and lieutenant governor favor the measure.

Commissioner Ron Antony noted all of the bill’s sponsors are of one party (Democrat) of whom none are local, and asked if the federal government has to approve.

Pierce explained since the park has received federal money for land and water conservation, the federal government would be involved.

“There are a lot of culturally significant state parks, are you prepared to do this to all of them?” Berends asked. “Would the tribe have the land available for public use?”

It became apparent through questioning the DNR representatives had little information themselves about how the transfer would be accomplished and what changes would flow from it.

“We see a variety of approaches,” Roemhildt said, and urged consultation and cooperation with local landowners and interested groups.


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