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New boat ramp, parking at Lake Mitchell drawing opposition

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A proposed new boat ramp and parking lot for boaters at Lake Mitchell is encountering opposition from some local anglers and tree-lovers.

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The project would relocate the ramp access area that is just east of the Sportsmen's Club. The access area would be relocated from the east side of the inlet to the west side, a double-lane concrete boat ramp would be installed, a paved lot would be added with space for about 30 boat trailers, and an access loop would be built to ease the loading and unloading of boats. The site would also have access to the existing sewer and water lines from the nearby Sportsmen's Club, which the city makes available for group rentals.

At the project site, there currently is a park-like public area with mature trees, some of which would have to be removed.

In a letter published in today's Daily Republic, Sherry Stilley says there are 60 cottonwood trees on the site.

"Taking out the trees just a few yards from the shoreline is destructive," the letter reads in part. "They protect the shoreline; the roots filter water on its way to the lake, provide shoreline stabilization, and shade for fish, fishermen, and picnickers in that park."

Stilley was among the group that formed two years ago to oppose the Mitchell City Council's attempted swap of a different wooded tract of land near the lake. The council wanted to trade some land covered in ponderosa pines near the lake's north shore for a privately owned parcel near the city soccer complex, but the deal crumbled under public opposition. Soon thereafter, Stilley and others got a ballot initiative passed to designate all publicly owned land around the lake as park land.

Dusty Rodiek, the city park and recreation director, said the ramp project remains only a proposal and he plans to hold a public meeting about it soon, although no date is set.

He admitted being "a little hurt" by the recent criticism. He said the lake and park boards have been in conversation about making a change for a while, adding that he met with a fishing club in September and received its approval.

Plans have not been finalized because the city is hoping to fund the new ramp and lot with a state Game, Fish and Parks grant, and Rodiek wants all sides to be heard before moving forward. Though there is no official estimate of cost, various officials interviewed for this story roughly estimated a cost between $120,000 and $200,000.

Rodiek didn't have specifics on how many trees would be lost but emphasized it's possible the existing boat ramp area will be reclaimed.

"It's been my intention all along to remove as few trees as possible, and whatever we do remove will get replanted with new young trees," he said.

Tim Allen is the co-organizer of the Poorman's Fishing Tournament and is against the project.

"It feels like their minds are almost already made up on the subject," said Allen, who also said he hasn't talked to Rodiek. "It feels like one or two people dictate what should be done and that's what the city decides."

The plan to save and plant some trees is not good enough for Allen.

"Those trees are 50 years old. When the new trees are 50 years old, I'm going to be dead," he said. "I'm not going to see them."

He points to trees on the lake's west end that were removed 10 years ago, where the land is still "barren" despite the city's efforts to replant.

"Sure, it looks better than a parking lot, but there's not much there," he said.

Rodiek said an archeological study has already been completed -- because of the nearby Prehistoric Indian Village -- and the city has clearance to move forward.

Mark Puetz, chairman of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, said he thinks the project is a good idea.

"This is a nice option to expand the boat ramp and let two full-size trucks and trailers back up at the same time," he said. "It's just going to be a better overall facility."

According to Puetz, the cost would be too much to get the sewer and water lines over to the current ramp location across the inlet.

During this year's Poorman's event June 10, various signs were posted in the current park-like area, reading "Don't commercialize our lake" and "Save our trees" and urging those who care to call mayor-elect Ken Tracy or Rodiek. Allen said he doesn't know who's responsible for the signs, but a lot of anglers feel the same way about the potential change.

"Sometimes progress or [building] new is not better," Allen said. "There's no way, once you rip out the trees and put a parking lot there, that you will ever get that back again."

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