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Voyageur's Best Features of 2004


Sandy Lake Recreation Area in top 100
Reserve America names Sandy Lake Top 100
by John Grones  | August 24, 2004

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engi-neers’ Sandy Lake Recreation Area, locally known as Libby Dam, on Big Sandy Lake, has made the list of ‘Top 100 Family Campgrounds in America.’ This list is compiled by Reserve America, a company that provides reservation services for campgrounds. Sandy Lake Recreation Area turned out to be the only Minnesota campground to make the list.

Reserve America looked at 3,000 parks nationwide and picked the top 100 based on family friendliness. Criteria such as camping amenities, overall beauty and educational programs were considered.

The Sandy Lake Recreation Area is located 13 miles north of McGregor on Hwy. 65 and has been managed by Jeff Steere for the past 15 years. He has been assisted by Terry Ladd for all of those years. Terry has actually worked at the park for 25 years as park ranger.

Jeff and Terry were both a little surprised by the honor. “We’re just a little park in the middle of nowhere,” commented Jeff, “but then again, we have always received positive comments.” The two main comments over the years – the campground is clean and it is quiet.

Sandy Lake Recreation Area draws 70,000 visitors each year. All enjoy the clean, safe environment that offers plenty of family entertainment. “People come here because they don’t have to deal with rowdy crowds,” explained Jeff. “There are rangers patrolling from 7:30 a.m. to midnight most of the summer.”

Another positive feature of the park, according to Jeff, is the location. “We are two hours from the twin cities, one hour from Duluth and 60 percent of our campers come from those areas. It is also convenient... right off Hwy. 65.”

The park has plenty of amenities for families. In addition to the 60 campsites, there are dump stations, laundry facilities, showers, two boat ramps on the lake, one boat ramp on the river, a swimming beach, playgrounds, a picnic shelter, fishing platforms, 18 docks, and a museum. More recently, the park has tried to emphasize interpretive programs for the kids. Every Fri. and Sat. evening an educational program is scheduled.

In case of rain, the campground also provides a place to go for a movie.

Families aren’t the only ones that frequent the campground. There are a number of serious fishermen that visit as well. Because the park has direct access to two major bodies – Big Sandy Lake and the Mississippi River, the Recreation Area makes for a great place to set up camp.

This link between Big Sandy Lake and the Mississippi is also very important to the nation’s history. Big Sandy Lake was the site of the Northwest and American fur trade companies in the 1700s. Big Sandy Lake was an important link between the Great Lakes canoe route and the Mississippi canoe route.

With all the history, all amenities, all the family-oriented features, and the overall beauty, it should come as no surprise that the park made the top 100. The park certainly is one of the best and it continues to improve. Jeff commented on some of the upcoming projects. “Our plan is to expand the swimming beach and add a second fish-cleaning house with running water. We are also looking into adding a handicap shower facility.” According to Jeff, this project would involve remodeling and adding on to the current shower facilities.

Jeff also mentioned that they are looking into something called mini-shelters. He described family picnic areas with roofs over them.

As a local resource, the park has also been an asset to the community. A local lake association holds a Water Institute designed to teach students how to enjoy and preserve local waterways through a number of activities. Students learn about boat and water safety, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, snorkeling, sailing, environmental education and can take swimming lessons. The McGregor School has also held classes at the park as part of a science project.

All these wonderful improvements have led to many happy campers who choose to stay at the Sandy Lake Recreation Area time after time. Many return each year. One couple, Hal and Lana Becker, has spent the last four years serving as the campground hosts. Hal is a retired state park manager and he feels that the maintenance crew at the park is second to none in the nation. “Everything is spic-and-span,” he said. “I can’t say enough.” Hal shared similar comments that support the many opinions that Sandy Lake Recreation Area has a lot to offer families. He concluded, “I just love the McGregor Area!”

This article first appeared in the August 24, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.