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Archeological study of Coney Island continues

Post Date:03/20/2017 12:22 PM

“No Trespassing” signs will remain up on Lake Waconia Regional Park’s Coney Island as Carver County continues efforts to have an archeological and historical analysis of the island completed.  

“We have to keep the island closed due to safety risks,” said Carver County Parks Director Martin Walsh.  “And because Coney Island of the West is on the National Register of Historic Places, there are a number of considerations that need to be addressed before clean-up or development can take place.” 

In October, the County contracted Blond Consulting LLC, a firm that specializes in cultural and historical research, to perform a Phase I Archeological and Historical Analysis of Coney Island. The study consisted of gridding out the island and systematically conducting shovel tests of areas approximately 1 meter (or 3.2 feet) wide by 1 meter deep.  The soil and materials from those areas were then sifted to search for items that might have historical significance. A total of 310 shovel tests were performed across the 33-acre island.  

The study highlighted the findings of Atlatl (projectile points) and rim sherd (pottery rims) that reference human activity on the island dating back before recorded history. The Carver County Historical Society has since confirmed it will serve as a repository for these objects.  

The Phase I report was submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in late January. SHPO has 30 days to review the report. It is anticipated that when the County receives those comments in late February, they will require a Phase II study of Coney Island.   

Phase II studies dive deeper into the historical and archeological significance of particular sites where archeological finds have been made.  Depending on the results of this study, the County may be tasked with mitigating the risk of impacting historical and archeological areas by avoiding specific portions of the island for development.

“This might be as simple as adjusting conceptual trail alignments slightly, or as complex as altering where we place picnic shelters or camping areas,” Walsh said.

If a Phase II study is required, the County will consider contracting with Blondo Consulting LLC to begin work as soon as conditions allow. With the spring season appearing to arrive early, Walsh said it is possible the study could begin in April or May.

“We’re unable to say at this time when clean-up and development will begin or how long it will take to complete,” Walsh said. “That will depend on if we have to do a Phase II study and if we have to change our plans for developing the island.” 

It was two years ago, in 2015, that the County had made a request to the Metropolitan Council to use Park Acquisition Opportunity Funds to purchase the island as an extension to the Lake Waconia Regional Park. Use of those funds required a 25 percent local match, which owners Norman and Ann Hoffman of Waconia agreed to provide by selling the property for 75 percent of its appraised value. In addition, the Norman and Ann Hoffman Foundation donated $900,000 for cleanup and improvements to the site.  

Carver County purchased the property last February for $1 million completing the final transaction with the Trust for Public Land, the intermediary nonprofit organization specializing in land preservation that assisted with the complex transfer of ownership of the island through the charitable pledge and donation agreement with the Norman and Ann Hoffman Foundation.  

The County has used public meetings and an online survey to gather public input on planning documents for Coney Island and Lake Waconia Regional Park. It addition to using the island for recreational activities, the plans include historical interpretation efforts. 

Coney Island’s recorded history as a popular summer destination dates back to the 1880s when there were cottages and three hotels on the island. The University of Minnesota Gophers football team held pre-season practices on the island’s football field from 1903 to 1905. Even after the resort traffic dwindled in the 1920s, the island’s popularity continued as a weekend dinner and dancing spot. 

By 1960, however, the island was completely vacated. The Waconia Bicentennial Committee’s Island Committee led efforts to rehabilitate the island in 1975, and the island was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. While a study was conducted on possible uses for the island, high costs prevented development.

Lake Waconia Park, located east of Waconia off Highway 5 at 8170 Paradise Lane, offers views of Coney Island. Existing facilities at the park include a sledding hill, picnic shelter, play equipment, restrooms, swimming beach, picnic tables, volleyball court and grills. Park hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

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