Dakota County Board balks at ‘treehouse’ estimates

Whitetail Regional Park construction to begin in 2013

Dakota County commissioners suffered sticker shock Nov. 13 when considering the cost of adding a “wow factor” at the county’s newest regional park, Whitetail Woods in Empire Township.

Commissioners balked at the estimated $810,000 cost to build nine rustic “treehouse” cabins at the park. A restroom building and short road with parking was estimated to cost another $450,000.

“Are you crazy?” Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord asked parks officials presenting plans at the board’s Nov. 13 Physical Development Committee meeting. “Little cabins in the woods without any plumbing cost $90,000 each? … I could build a house for this kind of money.”

Cabin estimated costs are high because they are proposed as custom-designed for year-round use, and include insulation, heat and electricity, said Bruce Blair, Dakota County Parks facilities development manager.

Custom architecture comes at a price, added Parks Department Director Steve Sullivan. He said treehouse kits used in the state parks cost about $30,000, but the cabins as proposed better met the vision outlined in the county’s master plan for the park.

Most commissioners liked the cabin concept and wanted to include three of them in the park’s first development phase starting in 2013, but asked staff to return with less expensive options.

In October, Dakota County commissioners approved spending $4.7 million to begin developing the park in 2013.

At the meeting, commissioners recommended funding increases of $75,000 for play equipment, $25,000 for irrigation and $25,000 for planting and natural resources.

The board also recommended adding wood and stone to steel picnic shelter beams to translate a less industrial feel.

Commissioner Joe Harris argued for the park’s 1.5 mile entrance road to be paved, and encouraged the county to talk to Empire Township about paving the township road leading to the park as well.

Current plans call for a gravel road into the park and a paved parking lot to help manage storm water and ensure the park is accessible.

Harris said visitors would not come back or recommend others go if the drive there gets their car dirty.

“If you expect people to come here, you gotta give them a paved road,” Harris said.

Concerns were raised about the park entrance road’s location that will require the county to obtain an easement from the University of Minnesota.

Sullivan said there is discussion of the university granting the county a $58,000 easement for the road.

Its location will displace the Master Gardener area, but Sullivan said they also need electricity and water that will become available due to the county park’s development.