Lake Elmo's beautiful greensward threatened by disuse and developers

This will be the last autumn for golf and family fun at Tartan Park in Lake Elmo.

This will be the last autumn for golf and family fun at Tartan Park in Lake Elmo.

In 1958, 3M Co., looking to treat its employees to a bit of fresh air and leisure, bought a picturesque, 452-acre plot of land in Lake Elmo. Tartan Park was designed to be a verdant getaway for 3M staff and families, retirees, and clients, complete with 12 tennis courts, an archery range, four lighted softball fields, a clubhouse, and a golf course, which opened for tee times in 1963.

“It was part of 3M culture and they were important enough to team building that 3M allowed — encouraged — people to stop working on making money all the time and enjoy some of the short summers on what was a very, very nice facility,” retiree Don Nielsen told earlier this year.

But the halcyon days couldn't last forever. To offset rising operational costs, 3M opened the course to the public in 2012.

Even that move didn't do enough for fiscal solvency. The dollar crunch compounded by a changed corporate culture led 3M to announce months ago that it would close the 27-hole golf course and recreational getaway a week before Christmas.

Company spokeswoman Lori Anderson told media outlets at the time that 3M was unwilling to dump more money into infrastructure improvements such as road maintenance and irrigation pumping stations.

Uncertainty lurks as to the sprawling green space's next chapter.

The company initially sought out the public sector, offering the right of first refusal to cobble together enough funding to conserve the area as parkland. Plans included folding the property into the neighboring Lake Elmo Park Reserve as a part of the Washington County parks system. It didn't take long, though, for the county, city of Lake Elmo, and the Trust for Public Land to conclude it was a project beyond their reach.

This year's county assessment for Tartan Park is almost $5.2 million. 3M's Anderson tells City Pages the asking price is $10 million.

"We're currently having discussions with interested parties. That's all I can say," she says. 

Property tire kickers eyeing the park is nothing new. Developers have shown interest in the past, according to Lake Elmo city officials. But there are variables that continue to make it a tough sell. The property isn't currently zoned for residential sewer. Some housing development could happen, but would require septic systems. The closest water line is about one mile away. Expanding the sewer line would mean massive changes to Lake Elmo's current comprehensive plan and tens of millions in infrastructure investment from any developer. 

Lake Elmo Councilwoman Anne Smith would like to see the park remain a public golf course featuring recreational amenities. Smith understands for that to happen some residential development may have to take place.  

"Unofficially, people have been calling, asking about what could be done," says Smith. "My hope is that someone comes forward with a proposal that would allow the golf course to remain an amenity for the residents of Lake Elmo, along with the ball fields and other amenities. We continue to need those sorts of things in Lake Elmo. For our community to lose this asset altogether would be very sad."