Orono Has Big Plans for Big Island Park 

The city of Orono is looking to create easier access to one of Lake Minnetonka’s popular islands.

Big Island, which is right in the middle of the lake, is known to some for the activities of boaters who park offshore and party.

The only way to get to Big Island is by boat. Unlike the rest of the shoreline on Lake Minnetonka, Big Island Park looks deserted.

Orono City Council Member Victoria Seals is co-chair of the newly formed Big Island Committee.

“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, because when you think about it, it’s literally right in the middle of the lake,” Seals said. “And you’ve got Orono in one direction, Mound one direction, Excelsior another. Not only is it Orono’s island, it’s really the community’s island.”

In 2006, Orono purchased the 56-acre park for $5.9 million.

Orono resident Dennis Libby, the other chair of the Big Island Committee, said the island is full of history.

“Actually, we had Dakota Sioux Indians that actually used the island area for maple syrup harvesting,” he said.

It was home to a huge amusement park in the early 1900s. Tens of thousands of visitors came on boats every weekend during the summer. The park featured a 200-foot electric beacon that could be seen from any vantage point on the lake.

In the 1920s the property became the Big Island Veterans Camp, Libby said.

“The earliest veterans that came out there were WWI veterans,” he said.

Orono Mayor Denny Walsh sees the island as a tremendous opportunity for the city.

“I think it’s a jewel that is an unpolished, rough cut diamond that’s just sitting out there just begging to be polished. And I think it’s time to dust it off, polish it up a little bit and see what we can do,” Walsh said.

The city of Orono wants even more people — especially families, veterans and disabled — to be able to enjoy Big Island Park.

“I’ve always been a believer that the answer is in the room,” Seals said. “So it shouldn’t just be my agenda, it should be the vets, the people of Orono and people who really want to see this island thrive.”

The Big Island Committee is just getting started in it’s process to open up the island, and encourages ideas from anyone interested in helping out.

Source (with video): Orono Has Big Plans for Big Island Park | KSTP.com