Rick Carter has deep affection for Big Island Park, and he participates in the fundraising effort, Big Island Legacy, which has raised money to pay for basic improvements to the park, including the creation of ADA accessible trails, the inclusion of signage and the construction of a bathroom. (Funds also come from a DNR matching grant, private donations and the City of Orono.) If phase two of the fundraising effort is successful, the construction of a picnic shelter, an additional bathroom and more trails will be in the works.
“I ski and boat out to the island regularly,” Carter says. “It’s an incredible wilderness.” Acknowledging that on summer weekends, Big Island has a reputation as a crowded party hub, he says that’s not the island he sees on his early weekday morning visits. “I never see more than two boats at a time,” he says.
Carter knows a lot about the history of Big Island, and he wants to make it accessible, while preserving its natural beauty. Big Island has been many things to many people over the years. It was the main sugar camp in the area for the Dakota people, an amusement park and a camp site for veterans.
“There’s no piece of land in Minnesota that has that kind of story,” he says.
The early work to upgrade the Orono city park at the eastern end of the island involved a preliminary archeological survey, conducted by Maritime Heritage Minnesota, to be sure that improvements don’t accidentally destroy relics of the past.
Along with the clearing and maintenance of the trails, the organization, with help from Home Depot and some Boy Scouts, was able to clean up and paint the visitors’ center and install signs in the center, which highlight the island’s history, as well as guiding visitors to points of interest.
For more information about the renovation and improvements, or to donate to Big Island Legacy, visit bigislandlegacy.org.
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