FAIRFAX — The Fort Ridgely State Park Golf Course will stay open after a yearlong fight between grass-roots activists and the state Department of Natural Resources to keep it from being returned to natural prairie.
The DNR and city of Fairfax Golf Course Advisory Board have created a five-year lease agreement similar to the one in place at Fort Snelling State Park that will allow the 90-year-old course in the northwest corner of Nicollet County, to be reopened and operated by Fairfax, said City Clerk-Treasurer Marcia Seibert-Volz.
Now, it's a scramble to get the hilly nine-hole golf course up and running after it was closed on Labor Day Weekend. The golf course was built on a Civil War-era army outpost and is near an old stone fort.
"I guess it's on us now. The DNR didn't want to run this," said Randy Krzmarzick, one of the seven members on the golf course advisory board. "We had a lot of people say that it was worth saving. We've taken a big step and it will take a lot of support to get it going.
The agreement will go before the Fairfax City Council for approval April 11. In the meantime, the DNR and city's lawyers are working on refining some points in the agreement and clearly defining what causes would justify termination at will, Seibert-Volz said.
The contract calls for Fairfax to pay rent for the course and pay a percentage of sales to the DNR. Pending legislative approval, visitors to the golf course will not have to buy a state park permit, alcohol sales will be permitted at the clubhouse, and golf carts will be allowed if OK'd by the State Historical Preservation Office.
The golf course was closed by the DNR last fall after years of hefty financial loss, and because it didn't' fit with the department's strategic mission for the state's parks. The DNR initially planned to close it earlier in the year but delayed shutting down the course after backlash from the public.
Members of the Friends of Fort Ridgely began to look for a way to keep it open and proposed several options they believed would make the low-earning golf course more sustainable.
The DNR, however, instead created a commission to study and discuss the next steps for the course and decided to plant it over with native vegetation.
State Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, authored a House bill to accomplish what the nearly finished agreement will do for the golf course. Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, created a Senate bill for the cause, but a few weeks ago Fairfax began working on a deal with the DNR.
A DNR spokesperson said negotiations between the DNR and city of Fairfax are progressing well. The parties have had two three-hour negotiation sessions to discuss terms of a possible agreement. The department declined to comment further because it is still in active contract discussions with the city.
The Fairfax Golf Course Advisory Board is now working to raise $100,000 to cover startup costs without using city tax dollars and hire a staff for the golf course. Nicollet County has pledged $5,000 to the cause, and overall about $70,000 has been raised, Krzmarzick said.
"I wish there was a script for this," Krzmarzick said. He and others in the group, such as Friends Board President John Fritsche and insurance agent Loran Kaardal, have poured hours into the fight for the golf course. Kryzmarzick said the golf course advisory board is juggling a lot at the moment.
The Fort Ridgely Golf Course also will work with the nearby Mayflower Country Club to create member specials and promote the historic course as a complement to the Mayflower Course, he said.
"I don't think it was on any of our bucket lists to run a golf course. But we felt like it was worth saving."
Deanna B. Narveson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 344-6374. Follow on Twitter @dbnarveson.