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Washington County realizes vision for Big Marine Park Reserve

The Washington County Board of Commissioners and a whole bunch of youngsters dug the grand opening of Big Marine Park Reserve in May Township Saturday.

With shovels in hand, the commissioners, along with keynote speaker and local television meteorologist Sven Sundgaard, officially opened the newest park in Washington County by planting a ceremonial tree. They weren't alone as hundreds of residents from around the county attended the event, which allowed a free day of access to the new park. After the ceremonial tree planting, county parks staff organized a Frisbee dig on the beach for youth. Some of the buried Frisbees were with marked with year-long county park passes.

Park goers at the grand opening were also treated to a variety of free entertainment, activities and lunch.

Two decades in the making

Saturday's grand opening of Big Marine Park Reserve was almost than 20 years in the making, said Washington County parks director John Elhom.

"The county had been buying land (around Big Marine Lake) as it's become available over the years, and we realized in the last few years that there was finally enough continuous land to open the park," Elhom said. "It's something that has been in our master plan for awhile, so it's exciting to see it finally come together."

The park reserve is currently about 650 acres in size, but will grow to about 1,800 acres as the county continues to acquire more land. Nearly all of the acquired land is being preserved as is, save the hiking trails.

The park does feature a large playground and a 400-foot public beachfront on the lake, which is adjacent to a public boat launch.

Not far from the public beach is the Veterans Rest Camp, which has been on the lake for more than 80 years as a vacation resort for military veterans and families.

The county tried unsuccessfully to purchase the Veterans Rest Camp in 2005, but camp board member Don Drigans said the one-time feud with the county is now water under the bridge.

"We're excited to see the new park," Drigans said. "It's a good thing for veterans and their families who come to the camp, and it's a good thing for county residents."

County commissioner Dick Stafford said the park that had forever been talked about is now a reality county residents can appreciate.

"With all the amenities and trails, it's probably going to be one of the more substantial parks in the metro area," Stafford said.