Minnesota has a Coney Island ... and it's coming back to life

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There were no roller coasters. Probably not even a hot dog vendor.

But Coney Island on Lake Waconia once had such a reputation among tourists that it was nicknamed "The Paradise of the Northwest."

Home to a popular resort, dozens of summer cottages, and eventually a dance hall, the Carver County Historical Society says a century ago visitors came from around the country and "spent days, weeks, or even the whole summer in Waconia."

By the 1960s, though, its buildings were abandoned. When it was put on the National Register of Historic Places in the '70s, it was described as a ghost town.

Now, traces of its former glory are few, FOX 9 reports.

Plan to revive the island as a park

Carver County's plan to purchase Coney Island and make it part of Lake Waconia Regional Park got a big boost this week when the Metropolitan Council approved a grant of more than $1 million for that purpose, the Chanhassen Villager reports.

Owners Norman and Ann Hoffman are selling the property at a discount through an intermediary, the Villager says, with the sale expected to close next month.

Meanwhile, the county is getting input from residents on what the future park should include. Planners have come up with options (see them here) that could include hiking trails, camping, historic interpretation, and possibly a beach and boat launch.

KSTP says public comments are being accepted through Jan. 24.

The rise and fall of Coney Island

A resort was built on Coney Island of the West (its official name) in 1884. Railroad service to Waconia improved in during the '80s and visitors could step off the train and catch a boat launch to the island, the County Historical Society says.

In those days when smokestacks and chimneys left city air a little thick, the fresh breezes on Lake Waconia were a welcome getaway. The University of Minnesota football team even used a field on Coney Island for practices from 1903-05, Heidi Gould relates in a MNopedia entry.

Eventually, though, cars and highways allowed urban residents to make long journeys to Minnesota's northern forests and lakes.

The document nominating Coney Island for historic status recounts the vandalism and deterioration of the buildings that remained in the 1970s and sums up the island's significance this way:

"What remains of Coney Island today is a grave reminder of what was once one of Minnesota's most popular early resort areas, a representation of the desire of urban dwellers to seek recreation in Minnesota's lakes and nature areas as early as the 1880s. "

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