The evolving tale of where the Brainerd area's famed Paul Bunyan and Babe statues will eventually land has already taken a few twists and turns. It will probably take more.
The latest development -- after owner Don McFarland decided to award it to a nonprofit group that would locate it at This Old Farm on Highway 18 -- is that opinion about where Paul, Babe and the relocated amusement center should be established appears to be split among Nokay Lake Township residents. Some don't want an amusement park and the possibility of more development in what they consider to be a rural setting. Others spoke of landowners' rights and viewed the amusement park as progress that couldn't be stopped as long as traffic and safety issues were addressed.
Pressure to develop in what have been traditionally rural areas is going to increase tremendously as the county's population continues to grow. The question which must be addressed is: When land is sought for housing and commercial developments where do we want them to be located?
When the Crow Wing County Planning Commission addresses this issue on July 24 it should consider what the comprehensive plan has to say about the proposed site and whether it's appropriate for commercial use. A lot of time and effort go into these documents and too often they're set on a shelf and seldom looked at again. In Crow Wing County officials recently concluded a series of meetings in which they asked residents how they wanted to shape the county in the coming years. County staff will devise a draft comprehensive plan based on the results of those meetings and give the public one more opportunity to review it.
Getting back to Paul and Babe's eventual home, we can't help but feel that owner Don McFarland's decision not to locate it at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce's new tourism center, just south of Brainerd, was a missed opportunity. The statues would have served as gateway icons to Minnesota's vacationland and preserved a nostalgic piece of Minnesota's history in a setting conducive to year-round viewing.
That being said, the statues belong to the McFarland family, and its wish to see the amusement center continue alongside Paul and Babe was a key factor in the decision to relocate the entire park at This Old Farm.
The remaining decisions, regarding zoning and conditional use permits, will be made by the Crow Wing County Planning Commission and the Crow Wing County Board. Those bodies have to take a look at the long-range picture when they decide what is or isn't appropriate.
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