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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Hearing set on campground proposal

Rustic tent camping development proposed near entrance to Black Bay

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 3/1/23

LAKE VERMILION— A proposal for a new rustic campground near the mouth of Black Bay will be up before the St. Louis County Planning Commission on Thursday, March 9.A Minnesota nonprofit, known …

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Hearing set on campground proposal

Rustic tent camping development proposed near entrance to Black Bay


LAKE VERMILION— A proposal for a new rustic campground near the mouth of Black Bay will be up before the St. Louis County Planning Commission on Thursday, March 9.
A Minnesota nonprofit, known as Rough-N-It, Inc. is in the process of acquiring approximately 45 acres on a double-pronged, boat-access peninsula with the hopes of constructing a tent campground to allow disabled veterans or other groups to have outdoor experiences in a wilderness-like setting. That’s according to Christine Wryobek, who has filed applications with St. Louis County for a rezoning of the site and a conditional use permit.
As the non-profit’s name suggests, the camp, as proposed, would be rustic, comprised of as many as 47 dispersed campsites and privies or outhouses. The facility would necessitate the construction of a large dock to accommodate the boats that would shuttle campers back and forth to two lots across the bay with road access.
County records show Lutheran Social Services as the current taxpayer on the three large parcels that make up the 45-acre property, which is currently undeveloped.
So far, St. Louis County planning officials have offered a mixed assessment of the proposal. While a staff report on the requested conditional use permit appears largely supportive of the proposal, a separate staff report on the requested change in zoning takes a far more skeptical tone. The area is currently zoned Residential, which would not allow the construction of a campground. Wryobek is requesting a rezoning to Shoreland Multiple Use, or SMU, a category that would allow a campground as a conditional use.
But county planners, in their staff report on the rezoning request, say that it would amount to “spot zoning,” that would typically not be allowed without a clear public benefit, something the report concludes that Wryobek has yet to demonstrate.
“The current zoning was established for the protection of existing residential development and to restrict incompatible uses,” notes the report. “There are multiple areas on Lake Vermilion that are zoned SMU that would support the requested commercial planned development. These areas where specifically identified during the Lake Vermilion planning process to allow for commercial development to continue and expand if needed.”
Wryobek said she’s aware of the current shortage of tent camping opportunities in the area and had selected Vermilion because it could provide disabled individuals with a rustic, wilderness-like setting as well as motorized access to Trout Lake, located in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. “That’s why Lake Vermilion is so appealing to us,” she said.
Not surprisingly, news of the proposed development has raised concerns with neighbors in the vicinity, who received notice of next week’s hearing late last week. The property in question includes nearly 7,000 feet of prominent shoreline on Vermilion’s far west end. With high rock bluffs and palisades, it’s been a landmark that has managed to avoid any significant development despite the pressures the lake has faced for decades. It’s one of the largest undeveloped tracts of privately-owned property still remaining on the lake, one that neighbors, like Jim Aune, have long assumed would see major changes one day.
“We live right across from that property,” said Aune, who was one of the nearby residents to receive notice of next week’s public hearing. Aune said he had contacted some of his wealthy acquaintances when the property in question was put up for sale by Lutheran Social Services, to see if they might be interested in buying the land to head off significant development on the site. “Personally, if that property is developed it would be a huge loss for me,” he said. “It’s beautiful land. I’d hate to see it split up.”
Aune, who built his current residence on Black Bay Road back in 1979 said he’s seen lots of change on the lake over the years, particularly the trend of building ever larger summer homes along the shore. “I’d hate to see it become like Lake Minnetonka,” he said.
Ironically, Wryobek’s proposed development could help prevent the subdivision of this large and prominent tract. And while Aune has concerns about the proposal, he said he recognizes the need for more tent camping opportunities on the lake and agreed that a tent campground wouldn’t be the worst use for the site. “If that were the case, that this was rustic and it was run responsibly, I would not necessarily be against that,” he said.
Thursday’s public hearing on the proposed campground is set for 10:45 a.m. at the St. Louis County Government Services Center, located at 201 S. 3rd Av. W., in Virginia.


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