Chester Woods waives fee for disabled vets
Chester Woods Park just became a little more accessible.
The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners put its stamp of approval on waiving vehicle fees for disabled veterans.
Neil Doyle, Olmsted County Veterans Services supervisor, pitched the change on behalf of a veteran who reached out late last year, noting national and state parks already waive similar fees for veterans who were injured while serving or who have been disabled as the result of their service.
Doyle said local numbers indicate 1,918 of the county's 10,646 veterans could qualify for free passes.
Tom Eckdahl, Chester Woods Park manager, said he's glad to see county commissioners gave it unanimous support.
"We've had the request for years to become equal to our state and federal facilities," he said.
Olmsted County Commissioner Gregg Wright, who sits on the county's park commission, said the decision was easy to make, especially since the park already supports disabled veterans through activities like the annual deer hunt, which has been well attended for six years.
"It's another way of Olmsted County showing leadership," he said, noting other county's are looking to implement similar park events for veterans.
Doyle and Eckdahl suggested the change could increase revenue for the park, which charges $25 for a standard annual vehicle permit. They noted activities, such as camping and equipment rentals could increase, and veterans would become advocates for the park, attracting other visitors.
Veteran service and park staff have a plan in place to allow access with limited disruption of normal park operations as spring activity increases.
"We already worked out a system that would be very efficient for park staff to implement," Doyle said. "We would screen for eligibility criteria and issue stickers so staff can wave them right in."
Eckdahl said park staff is ready to start welcoming the disabled veterans, noting Chester Woods houses one of two track chairs that help make the grounds more accessible to people in wheelchairs. (The other track chair is available at Oxbow Park.)
"People want to see our vets being treated right," he said.