Regional park to open this fall in southeastern Minnesota
FARMINGTON, Minn. -- A gem that few people know about, but many will want to discover, is about to be revealed south of the Twin Cities.
The new Whitetail Woods Regional Park isn’t open to the public yet, but Dakota County officials promise the 456-acre park will be ready this fall. Located in Empire Township, Whitetail Woods promises to provide a multitude of recreational opportunities.
The park is being constructed in four phases, said Josh Kinney, senior project manager with Dakota County’s capital project management division, with the first phase nearing completion.
Entering the park, visitors will first pass an area designated for camper cabins. Three cabins are being constructed as part of the first phase. While there are no plans for a camper lot in the park, future plans include up to 30 cabins, depending on demand. Each group of cabins will include easy access to handicapped-accessible bath houses.
“We’re just getting through Phase 1 here, but there’s a lot of room to grow and a lot of potential here,” Kinney said.
The cabins will be available for rental.
About a mile south of the cabins is the commons area, the hub of activity for Whitetail Woods Regional Park.
Coming into the parking lot -- which has 106 spaces -- visitors will be surrounded by recreational opportunities. Up to 4.1 miles of soft-surface hiking/snowshoeing trails and 4.3 miles of cross-country ski/hiking trails are planned.
One of those trails leads to Empire Lake, which Kinney calls “the star of the show.”
The lake will offer opportunities for recreation in the future, but in the meantime visitors will be able to participate in many other activities. There is a large picnic shelter with a serving kitchen, outdoor fire pit and restrooms on site. The shelter has dividers in place, so it can be rented out for one large activity or to several smaller groups.
A nature play area is being constructed to the west of the picnic shelter, with natural amenities -- climbing boulders, a sandbox, forest play and observation patio -- available for toddlers through elementary-school-age children. A 53-foot sledding hill will be available on the adjacent land in the winter.
Picnic tables and grills also will be on the small hills surrounding the picnic shelter, Kinney said.
The shelter will face an amphitheater, where entertainment will be scheduled throughout the year. The amphitheater’s design is such that it will be visible from the shelter, the nearby picnic tables and other points around the facility.
“This is one of the first new parks Dakota County has done in a long time,” said Taud Hoopingarner, director of operations management for the county. “We wanted to make sure we did it right.”
Empire and Farmington officials who saw the park during a recent tour were pleasantly surprised.
“This is really one-stop shopping for recreation,” Farmington Parks and Recreation Director Randy Distad said. “You’ve got everything out here. It really covers everything you want to do outdoors.”
The master plan calls for a 20-acre off-leash dog park; a 9-hole, 16-acre disc golf area; several smaller water play areas; a wedding arbor; and trail connections to the abutting Vermillion Highlands Recreation and Wildlife Management Area.
A grand opening for Whitetail Woods Regional Park is scheduled for Sept. 27.