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A former ski area in northern Minnesota is set to become a new regional park, thanks to an anonymous donor.

The new 352-acre park, tentatively named Deep Lake Regional Park, is about 15 miles north of Park Rapids in Hubbard County, a news release said. The property includes the former Val Chatel, which was a popular ski area in the hills around Deep Lake that was open from the 1950s to the 1980s. 

After a few development plans fell through for the Val Chatel property, at 32546 County 4, the group of investors who owned it decided to sell. That's when Hubbard County asked the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands last year to help them protect the property and create a new county park and campground. 

The Trust for Public Lands earlier this month bought the property for $1.8 million, thanks to an anonymous private donation, and gave it to Hubbard County, which will manage the parkland going forward. 

“Val Chatel has had a big impact on this area and this is an incredible opportunity to once again make this special place available for public enjoyment for years to come,” Bob McGillivray, land protection director for Trust for Public Land, said in a news release. “Protecting this property will not only expand public access to outdoor recreational opportunities, it will also help preserve the natural resources that make the Northwoods such an important ecosystem.” 

There are various activities proposed for the park, which is expected to open in the summer of 2024, including trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and mountain biking. There will also be a variety of campsites and a boat launch for unmotorized canoes and kayaks. 

The location of the park is ideal, as it will serve as a connector to the National North Country Trail a mile to the north and the State Itasca Heartland Connector Trail several miles to the west. It's also not far from Itasca State Park and the Mississippi River headwaters, providing additional campsites for those visiting the area. 

The Trust for Public Land says the property has "high biodiversity significance" with a variety of forest cover, including white and red pines, as well as native plants. The majority of the property will be left natural, though there will be "ample trails" and "two smaller areas where limited development will be allowed."

Deep Lake Regional Park meets many of the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land's goals of protecting natural areas for public enjoyment, the release said. And the preservation of the Val Chatel property is part of the nonprofit's Mississippi Headwaters and Forever Northwoods programs.

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The Land Protection Donation Agreement between the Trust for Public Land and Hubbard County, which the county board approved in December, includes deed restrictions aimed at preserving the nature of the area. The county has hired Minneapolis-based SRF Consulting to plan and develop the park.

“This will be an incredible opportunity for Hubbard County to develop a recreational area that will have a tremendous regional impact, not only for our residents, but also for the people that visit our area every year,” Hubbard County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier said in the release. 

Trust for Public Land has not identified the donor, but did tell the Star Tribune the donor is local, from the greater Twin Cities area.

The Trust for Public Land has preserved nearly 100,000 acres in Minnesota, according to its website.

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