Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) - The Olmsted County Park Department received a large and early Christmas present.

The department learned in early December its request for state funds for a major planned project at Oxbow Park had received preliminary approval.

Oxbow Park photo

The department applied for a $2.1-million grant and the entire amount was approved by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. It now goes to the Minnesota legislature and DNR for final approval, which may come next year.

The plan calls for a new and larger nature center at Oxbow.

The project is expected to cost several million dollars, which means local funds will have to be used in addition to the grant. The Olmsted County Board formally accepted the grant Tuesday.

Park Superintendent Karlin Ziegler told the board if the grant wins final approval, infrastructure work will begin this year and construction of the new center is scheduled to begin in 2021 with a planned opening the following year.

Ziegler says events and public programming at Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo have increased 25-30% each year and naturalist-led classes and zoo visits have increased as much as 20% per year over the last 10 years.

“Visitor surveys and car counts show an increase of about 25,000 more park visitors per year and we are estimating about 400,000 people will visit the park in 2020,” continued Ziegler.

Ziegler noted that Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo is a community resource visited by students of various educational providers in the region.

“More than 125 schools and youth groups visit Oxbow Park from a radius of nearly 100 miles,” she said. “During spring, our peak time, there were more than 900 students scheduled to be in the Zoo and Nature Center in a four-hour timeframe. Our existing restrooms are far too small to accommodate the large crowds at peak times.”
The design for the new Oxbow Park nature center also incorporates plans for the center to be large enough to host events such as weddings, birthday parties and meetings.

Olmsted County will be seeking additional support for the Oxbow Park Nature Center to fund the project costs not covered by the grant.

“Oxbow Park Nature Center and Zollman Zoo have been greatly supported by donations in the past and we hope to continue receiving support from the community to keep taxpayer costs down and maintain an admission free facility,” said Ziegler.

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