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Lake Mitchell state park proposal stalled

This aerial photograph from 2009 shows Lake Mitchell. More than a year ago, the area was pitched to the governor's office as a possible location for a new state park, but the idea has gotten little traction since then. (Seth Tupper/Republic)

The idea of land near Lake Mitchell becoming a state park isn't dead in the water, but it certainly isn't going anywhere soon.

The Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee, along with the city of Mitchell, pitched the idea to Gov. Dennis Daugaard while he was in town for the Capital for a Day event in 2011. It has gained little traction since then.

"There is some concern from people in my office that the tracts of land available are small in number and non-contiguous," South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk said. "I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but that is a concern." When the idea was discussed in 2011, it was decided that first a study should be done to see if a state park at Lake Mitchell was even feasible.

"That would be the next step in the process," Vonk said. "We talked about the city paying for 50 percent of the study and we would look hard at coming up with the other half."

The feasibility study would be done to make sure there are enough land, interest and "fundamental resources" to warrant a state park at the lake. However, communication with the city got pushed to the side after major flooding issues in the state during 2011, according to Vonk.

Dusty Rodiek, Mitchell's parks and recreation director and a member of the Lake Area Advisory Committee, said he has had recent discussions with GF&P officials. He said indications are that the earliest they would be able to help fund a feasibility study would be the 2014 budget year.

"We are pretty much in a holding pattern right now, but if we could retain the use of recreation on the lake and also have the state pay for upkeep as well as create some more infrastructure in that area, that would be a win for the city," Rodiek said.

He thinks the area on the northwest side of the lake extending from Franks Bay to the west end fishing bridge would make for the most logical location for a state park.

"A lot of it depends on what the state is looking for in the state park, but I think that area would work well because there is room for campsites along that stretch and we have some infrastructure and access to the lake there already," Rodiek said.

Mayor Ken Tracy, who took office after the state park idea arose, said he wouldn't be opposed to exploring the idea of having a study conducted.

"My concern would be the cost of the study and if that is something the city is still interested in pursuing or not," Tracy said, noting the next step would be to bring the idea to the City Council for discussion.

Mitchell is farther from a state park than any other Class I municipality (towns with a population of 5,000 or more) in the state.

The Lake Vermillion Recreation Area, south of Montrose, is the closest to Mitchell at about 50 miles.

Vonk said distance from a large city isn't necessarily a factor when determining which places would make good spots for state parks or recreation areas.

It is more about basic fundamental factors such as land, recreation and historic appeal.

"The case of Blood Run met the criteria of being a cultural and natural resource from our perspective," he said of the newest state park, which has a proposed name of Good Earth State Park.

"It did have proximity to Sioux Falls and that helps, but it's not everything."

The feasibility study would likely only include the possibility of Lake Mitchell as a state park and not any other area close to Mitchell, according to Vonk.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks doesn't often actively seek new areas for state parks or recreation areas, Vonk said, noting Blood Run/Good Earth will be the first new park in more than 40 years.

He said the request from Mitchell is unique and said he hadn't fielded another one like it in the six years he has been at his post.