In-town camping doesn’t serve taxpayers, bikers or community

By Robert Morgan, Guest Columnist

I personally support Community Friendly Bicycling policy and practices — but not at unreasonable public expense or with rewards to a limited clientele.

Morrison County and Little Falls have many features to attract additional bicycling tourists to the area. However, Little Falls is not a Lanesboro. Further actions can be taken locally to enhance bicycling — but need to be fully evaluated, so citizens aren’t taxed for things not needed or benefits accrue just to the financially blessed.

Initially an RV Campground in Le Bourget Park was suggested as an enticement to traveling bicyclists. About two or three out of every 100 bikers that come through town will stay over. If bikers purchase services or goods, it will be during the daylight hours. Camping bicyclists will prefer to stay at Lindbergh State Park or at one of the pleasant lodging accommodations that presently exist in Little Falls.

Camping at Lindbergh State Park is across the river and about 1 1/2 miles from the railroad tracks verses LeBourget Park is one-tenth (.1) mile from the tracks. Even without the whistle blowing, it will be a poor night’s sleep downtown.

Maybe bike camping will increase 10 times the present rate by 2020; instead of three or four bike campers a week, it might rise to three or four on some nights, well within the capacity of the present campgrounds without additional infrastructure

An RV campground does not and cannot adequately serve bicycling campers. Persons who use recreational vehicles (RV) are in a much better financial position than are most county or city residents to afford lodging. The infrastructure development necessary, the public use regulations and the public staffing for enforcement, installation and maintenance of water and sewer, electric hookups and toilet sanitation facilities would be an ongoing burden to the city. Charging RV campers a use fee does not recover the costs — if that is true, a private entity would build, maintain and operate the campground without public subsidy.

The Minnesota Resort and Campground Association (MRCA) has a history of campground investment and operations. For the past two decades, private campgrounds in Minnesota have decreased. All the public campgrounds (state, county and municipal), are subsidized — all different ways and to various levels. Most public campground seasonal income reports do not include many expenses, services paid out of other accounts, depreciation, others show enhanced tourist dollars spent — and the reports may infer that costs are balanced (creative bookkeeping).

The Council could support initiatives of the Little Falls businesses; assist the present lodging and eating establishments to entice bikers, RVers, crafters or the many groups that might enjoy a visit or a stay in the Little Falls area.

The private sector will truly make the effort to enhance opportunities for both visitors and local residents to enjoy. As a biking destination and as a bike trail community, Little Falls has a lot of potential — but funding is not unlimited, so investments need to be a value, not a burden.

Robert Morgan is a resident of Fort Ripley and supporter of Community Friendly Bicycling initiatives.