State closing Upper Sioux Agency State Park to transfer land back to tribe

a sign that reads upper sioux agency state park
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that it will close Upper Sioux Agency State Park in February.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that it will close Upper Sioux Agency State Park in February.

The closure of the southwest Minnesota park near Granite Falls is part of a previously announced plan to transfer the property to the nearby Upper Sioux Community.

The tribal community had pushed for the land transfer for years. The park spans a little more than 2 square miles and includes the ruins of a federal complex where officers withheld supplies from Dakota people, leading to starvation and deaths.

The Legislature authorized the land transfer during its session last year.

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"We believe there are other ways to meet the outdoor recreation needs in the Minnesota River Valley,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said Wednesday. “We look forward to returning this land to the Upper Sioux Community. It is the right thing to do."

The Upper Sioux state park will remain open to the public until 10 p.m. on Feb. 15. The DNR will close the park permanently on Feb. 16, and remove signs, buildings and other infrastructure. The land transfer is expected to be completed by mid-March, Strommen said.

The park has been plagued with recent challenges, including aging buildings and road washouts caused by repeated flooding of the Yellow Medicine River. It would have required a significant investment in infrastructure to keep operating it as a recreational site, Strommen said, making the decision to support a land transfer “a pretty easy choice.”

Parks and trails director Ann Pierce said the DNR has been gathering public input on new recreational opportunities in the Minnesota River Valley region.

"Through that process, we've got a number of ideas in,” Pierce said. “We are looking through all those ideas and working with the community to figure out what are those best options that are available to us."

Some of the ideas suggested by the public include acquiring new public land or expanding existing parks, and providing more opportunities for hiking, camping, biking, horseback riding and whitewater kayaking. 

Although a lot of people have a “very personal connection” to the Upper Sioux state park, the DNR isn’t necessarily looking to replace the park, said Jeremy Losinski, the DNR’s southern region parks and trails manager.

“Rather, we’ve tried to learn more about the values that the park has provided to its users and look for ways to apply those values to other sites,” he said.