Spring Valley native Eric Reiland, right, and his neighbor, Joe Chase, stand in front of Reiland's house on County Road 1 in Pleasant Grove Township, Olmsted County.  The Olmsted County park and recreation department has included both landowners' homes in mapping an expansion of the Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Spring Valley native Eric Reiland, right, and his neighbor, Joe Chase, stand in front of Reiland's house on County Road 1 in Pleasant Grove Township, Olmsted County. The Olmsted County park and recreation department has included both landowners' homes in mapping an expansion of the Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Eric and Julie Reiland want to be unmapped.

On Oct. 12, a letter dated Oct. 11 arrived in the Reilands' mailbox from the Olmsted County Public Works Department, signed by Olmsted County Parks Superintendent Tom Ryan, informing Eric, son of Gene and Gail Reiland of rural Spring Valley and also a 1993 Kingsland High School graduate, and his wife, Julie, that their Pleasant Grove Township parcel of land, along with their home, is included in plans to expand the Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area, a 90-acre park located approximately a mile to the north. The Reilands received the letter, along with a map prepared by the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department's planning and analysis division, dated Aug. 14.

The letter reads, "The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners is considering the adoption of an official map that will include property along the boundaries of Olmsted County's newest regional park. As you may be aware, this park is called Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area; it is located east of County Road 1 at 4012 80th St. SE. Please accept this letter as a courtesy notification that in Olmsted County's ongoing efforts to provide parkland for our citizens and their guests, discussion has been held that includes the consideration of including some of your property in the official map process. While this discussion in no way implies that your property will be included, we did feel that it was appropriate to notify you of these discussions, and to offer to meet with you in person if you are so inclined. I have included information on official mapping for you to look over, as well as an aerial photo of the proposed official map boundaries."

Eric took the letter across the road to his neighbor, Joe Chase, whose property includes the historic Fugle's Mill, built by his great-great grandfather, and the men struggled to comprehend that the county could attempt to use eminent domain - or the power to force landowners off their land by simply purchasing it without the owner's final consent - or restrictive zoning, which would limit what landowners can do with their own property, to expand the Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area to 955 acres through the acquisition of 47 parcels of land on which 29 families currently reside.

Also affected by the proposal are Faith United Methodist Church's (FUMC) new pastor, the Rev. David Leider, and his wife, who live in the home on the first elbow south of the Reilands' home.

Eric's reaction to the letter's message was "shock," then anger very uncharacteristic of him. "We wanted a house big enough to raise four kids, and we love the space, love the garden, and it's our amendment rights to own property, and now people are trying to come and take it away from us. We picked this house seven years ago for the location, for its serenity, and the potential to turn it into our dream home. We just put a new well in in January, and we re-sided the house in December, then we get this letter...."

The neighbors were frustrated to learn that a neighbor, whose property is not included in the map, may have had some involvement in plotting it, observing that many of the people who seem to have a vested interest in the project also have horses and a wish to ride them more locally. Furthermore, they felt that their Olmsted County commissioner, Matt Flynn, should have visited each landowner individually before a special meeting held at the Pleasant Grove Masonic Lodge last Monday, Nov. 4, to discuss the matters of eminent domain, restrictive zoning and park expansion with them.

The men pointed out that the township must endorse the map before the commissioners can ratify it as an official map, but once that happens, the fate of their land is at the hands of the county - no timeline has been set for the project, but even if the county does not apply eminent domain to overtake their rights to the land, it may employ restrictive zoning, which would mean that if any of the individual neighbors were to apply for a building permit, that would be construed by the county as an opportunity to make an offer on their homes. The men feel that no honest assurances have been given, nor have they been included in the mapping process early enough to have a say in what actually happens.

Chase expressed his dismay that even if nothing happens now, if Flynn's term on the county board ends and another park-minded official is elected, there may be no chance to ask for clemency.

The Nov. 4 meeting "was just the beginning of the fireworks," they agreed, as the affected families have coalesced and hired an attorney to represent them to the township board and the commissioners.

"We wore red at the meeting," said Eric. "Even with last-minute notice, it was a very interesting meeting. People asked a lot of good questions, and a lot of people came from Spring Valley to support us. I asked all the members (of the Pleasant Grove Township Board) if they'd be interested in having the expansion include their houses and properties, and Paul Gerber said 'no,' and the other two, Reggie Oeltjen and Nathan Redalen, gave a hesitant 'yes' in front of everybody."

Eric, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, articulated his relief that Flynn clarified at the meeting that Mayo Clinic and the Destination Medical Center funding have nothing to do with the Root River Regional Park and Recreational Area's expansion. "Many of us, as Mayo employees, wouldn't want to think of our employer taking our houses for park land."

His wife, Julie, has practical and emotional ties to their home. "For us, the location is perfect because of the distance between work and home, and we can send our kids to the Stewartville school district," she said. "This house means a lot to me because Eric proposed to me on the banks behind the house, we brought our two little ones here from the hospital, and my mom knew us in this house before she got sick and passed away. There are a lot of memories here. It just feels so un-American that they can just take it away from us."

Chase and Leider both maintain that the valley is not suitable for park use, as there are falling limestone boulders that land haphazardly on its floor and a mountain lion roaming the acreage.

Reiland stated that it is his understanding that no motorized vehicles will be allowed, nor will visitors be able to walk their dogs there without being fined, and that hiking access is limited.

The residents also feel that even though the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which cannot take land by eminent domain, has been monitoring a fragile glacial-era flowering plant that resides on the steep bluff sides, their own stewardship of the land has allowed the rare plant to flourish - if people are allowed to walk or climb the terrain, the plant's survival would be threatened.

For now, the fate and future of the parcels and flowers in question rely solely on the township board determining whether or not to endorse the proposed park map as an official map. Eric related that Julie "is just as angry as I am," Chase fears for the sixth and seventh generations' opportunity to live on the family homestead, and Leider shared that his wife has been having graphic nightmares about losing their home.

But they have hope...and neighbors from across the valley and down County Road 1 who have already shown how much they care - Eric thanked the residents of Spring Valley who have come forward to speak on his family's behalf, noting that they have already helped make an incredible difference.