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KOA Campground is located at 4396 28th Avenue in south Moorhead, Minn. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Plans in works to repurpose closed KOA campgrounds on Moorhead's east edge

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MOORHEAD - Don’t look for the former KOA campgrounds on the city’s east edge to return to being a camper’s haven.

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Worn-out campground infrastructure, undersized camping spots and regularly rutted gravel roads, a no-no in this age of $200,000 recreational vehicles, have ended that use for the property, said Mike Larson, a partner in Black Mountain Investment, which owns the land and buildings.

Larson, who also co-owns Outlet Recreation.com, said Monday that plans are being formulated for the 11-acre commercial parcel along Interstate 94, “but I’m not at liberty to disclose quite yet” what will be done with the parcel.

In the meantime, a sign offers the property for lease.

But that lease would be a short-term proposition, perhaps six months, Larson said. Anything longer could impinge on the other plans for the land, he said.

In 2011, its last year of business, it was the Fargo-Moorhead Campground, Larson said.

But frustrations tied to construction road detours fueled the decision to close the campground, he said.

Now the property at 4396 28th Ave. S. sits quiet.

The former campground looks like an abandoned, slowly decaying farmstead.

A few trailers and other vehicles are stored amid weeds and grass grown 3 to 6 feet high. Water on the bottom of the swimming pool is topped with sickly green pond scum.

“It won’t be a campground anymore. The infrastructure of the campground is beyond its useful life,” Larson said.

“Much of the reason we closed down is the way the roads are maintained out there,” Larson added.

In 2008, the access road in front of the campground and heading west was brought under the city of Moorhead’s control. The gravel road going east to Minnesota State Highway 336 falls under Clay County’s jurisdiction.

“The way that the city and the county maintained the roads through the construction of the (34th Street and I-94) interchange made it so that RVs just couldn’t get through there,” Larson said.

The gravel access road was often soft and rutted, and it would take days for crews to regrade, he said.

“We had so many problems we didn’t want to put our customers through it anymore, so we closed down and made the decision that it isn’t feasible to reopen,” he said.

Moorhead and Cass County officials agree that the road, particularly in spring, can get soft, leaving it prone to ruts if traveled by heavy vehicles.

“Obviously, a gravel road isn’t intended to have urban traffic,” said Moorhead Assistant City Engineer Tom Trowbridge.

When the city was working on the 34th Street intersection and on 28th Avenue and its roundabout, traffic was detoured, Trowbridge said.

One detour had campers taking I-94’s Exit 6, then heading to the campground from Highway 336 and driving west on the frontage road more than two miles. That section of road at times had problems due to frost boils breaking up the surface, Trowbridge said.

Clay County David Overbo said the road isn’t bad, but all gravel roads will have dust and be soft in the spring.

If heavy vehicles travel the road when it’s soft, then “the campers come through 12-inch ruts,” Overbo said.

The closing of the KOA campground hasn’t put extra pressure on Fargo’s campground at Lindenwood Park.

Lindenwood’s 46 spots have always been full, said Carolyn Boutain, who has the campground in her portfolio of duties with the Fargo Park District.

But another campground in the area wouldn’t be a bad idea, she said.

“Fargo-Moorhead doesn’t have enough campsites. It’s one of those things that we just need, campsites,” Boutain said. “We were always busy even when they were open. It hasn’t made a big difference. We’re just always full. It’s more a disadvantage for the traveling public.”

Boutain agrees that it’s tougher to accommodate the bigger RV rigs.

“People have bought into the traveling house,” she said.

Larson said despite access difficulties for the campground, it never lacked business.

“Business was too good for us in such that it taxed the old infrastructure. We were full all the time from mid-June through Labor Day. The infrastructure couldn’t keep up with the demand we had. The roads couldn’t keep up,” he said.

“The quality of RVs have surpassed the quality of a campground on an old gravel road,” Larson said. “You’ve got $200,000 motor homes and they’re getting stuck on the road trying to get into the campground.

“It was a black eye on our business,” Larson said. “We just decided that life’s too short to put people through that.”

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Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.
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