Is a campground in Fairmont’s future?

FAIRMONT — The idea of a campground in Fairmont has been bandied about by different entities over the years. On Monday, Brigid Tuck of the University of Minnesota Extension presented the Fairmont City Council with an basic analysis for the potential economic contribution of a city-owned campground.

“Does this idea even make sense? Is there any value even continuing to explore this idea?” Tuck asked the council. “There are some signs here that this might have some viability.”

Using information garnered from Visit Fairmont’s visitor survey conducted by the Extension a year ago, Tuck learned that about half of the visitors that used Fairmont as a destination — not those making a quick stop while passing through on the Interstate — were aware of the city’s lakes and parks, and half of those people indicated they would likely use a campground if one was available.

“The lakes and parks — those are two things that people who come to the community already know about so you have that reputation to build on,” she said.

Tuck explored three areas for her report: the number of users, how much would each camper spend and how many would be local versus visitors to the community.

She said the campground should attract local users to support the endeavor, but visitors “represent new money into your economy.”

Tuck researched seven city-owned or county-owned campgrounds located on a lake or river in southern Minnesota. The campgrounds ranged in size from just four sites to 165 sites, with the average coming in at 28. Rental fees were $25 to $30 per day.

She checked weekday, weekend and holiday usage from May to October. All reported having 100 percent capacity over the three major summer holidays, with weekends averaging 77 percent capacity and week days averaging 38 percent.

From the Visit Fairmont survey data, Tuck was able to estimate that each camper could spend an average of $71 per day for dining, entertainment, gas and groceries during their camping stay. Using different scenarios with varying the number of camping spots from 20 to 30 with two or three campers on each site, she was able to calculate that campground users could spend more than $300,000 in the community during the camping season.

She shared additional information offered by the other campground managers she had contacted. They said it is difficult to attract campers to sites without a full hookup of water, sewer and electricity, and to look for creative ways to fill the campground during the weekdays.

Potential sites for a campground on city-owned land are on the Day Farm and at the north end of George Lake, according to Mike Humpal, city administrator. He said planning is in a preliminary research stage, with much to be determined, such as the cost of infrastructure to the site and site preparation, if the project goes forward.

In other business, the council:

o Authorized the mayor and city clerk to sign a grant agreement with the Minnesota DNR. The city was successful in being awarded a $1.4 million grant to construct a habitat restoration within the Dutch Creek watershed on city-owned land west of Cedar Creek Park. Funding for the project comes from the Legacy amendment, which dedicated a portion of the state sales tax to outdoor and cultural initiatives.

o Approved an event permit for a neighborhood get together from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 4 at Veterans Park. Sponsored by Fairmont United Methodist Church, the event will feature a free meal and displays from local organizations, a continuation of the popular block party held at the park every summer.

o Approved a request from Grace Lutheran Church to block Grant Street between Tilden Street and Webster Street from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for an event Sept. 8.