WJON In Depth: The Hidden Past Of St. Cloud’s Sportsman’s Island [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD - A game of baseball, a little trap shooting, and enjoying a picnic with family and friends. Once a common way to spend a lazy afternoon on a popular island on the Mississippi River south of St. Cloud. For about three decades ‘Sportsman’s Island” was a bustling hub of activity.
Dave Melby is a longtime St. Cloud resident who lives near Sportsman's Island.
People would play ball and they liked to walk around the island and think they were exploring.
The St. Cloud Community Wildlife Club leased the 19-acre island from the St. Cloud Country Club and formally dedicated it in 1949 to long lines of curious sightseers.
Originally there was just a walking bridge, but the island’s popularity meant they needed to find a new way to cross the channel. So, two years later in 1951, the club bought the bridge that spanned the Sauk River in Waite Park and moved over to the island.
The island had all the amenities of any other park, there was the 100 foot steel building with a kitchen area, a ball diamond, merry-go-round, swing set, and more.
The Sportsman’s Club became famous for hosting smelt fries on the island.
They’d also rent out the facilities to other organizations for $25.
Eventually the Sportsman’s Club started fading away in the late 1970s, and with it so did the island. Ray Galarneaut is a former member of the Wildlife Club.
I think people kind of took it for granted. There were a few organizations that had a party there every year, but those kind of faded out.
Today hints of what used to be remain: The steel structure of the road bridge, shells of several graffiti-filled buildings, the backstop, and a sad looking merry-go-round.
St. Cloud Country Club General Manager Tom Olson they’ve talked about ways to revive the island, and at one time even had it as part of their master plan.
Even had a proposal to put two holes on this island and kind of reroute the course. But, I think that's a little bit of a far fetched dream for the club at this particular point to develop two holes on here.
The club has also considered forming some sort of partnership with the city for a possible extension of the Beaver Island Tail with a picnic area and recreation spot. But, he says, a lot of logistics would need to be worked out.
There's a lot of operations parts of it that you'd really have to figure out. Where would people park, what would you do, how would you have the park? You have a residential area now that used to not be there, and it would be right in their back yard.
For now, Olson reminds residents that the island is private property and it is trespassing to make your way out there. But, he says he understands the curiosity that people still have about it.
Meanwhile, using the Beaver Islands as a recreation destination was not a new concept in 1949 when the Sportsman’s Island opened. St. Cloud State University owns several of the islands and opened a “biology lab” on them in 1933. They included bridges, a playground, fireplaces, and buildings for camping. It’s unclear when SCSU stopped utilizing their island facilities, but university articles about them ended in the early 1940s.
WJON video reporter Alex Sjevkovsky contributed to this story.