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Judge approves injunction at popular Goodhue County campground

RED WING — After years of legal tussle, the state has won a decisive courtroom battle that's expected to shut down a popular Goodhue County campground.

Goodhue County District Judge Lawrence Clark on Feb. 3 approved a permanent injunction request made by the Minnesota Department of Health that effectively shuts down the 300-acre Hidden Valley campground. It has operated the last two camping seasons without the proper licenses after state and local officials identified numerous health and environmental concerns at the campground, which has been in operation since 1967.

"We appreciate the state following through on this enforcement action and certainly appreciate the court also recognizing the shortcomings of the facility at this time," said Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher.

Attempts to contact Hidden Valley owner Cory Axelson for comment were not successful. The campground's phone number has apparently been disconnected, and he did not respond to an email from the Post-Bulletin. Julie Nagorski, Axelson's legal counsel, also did not return phone calls.

Neither Axelson nor Nagorski attended the hearing during which Judge Clark issued his summary judgement. They also did not file any paperwork disputing the facts of the Aug. 5 lawsuit filed by Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger.


"The court found, in its previous order, that the photographs and affidavits (Ehlinger) presented sufficiently established that (Axelson was) running a recreational camping area," wrote Clark. "Defendants did not present evidence undermining plaintiff's claim then, and has failed to even appear for the current motion."

Permit revoked

Hidden Valley has been under intense scrutiny for years because of frequent police calls, a nonfunctional septic system and other issues.

Last spring, Axelson was fined $10,000 by the state for operating without a license. Three months later, state officials found more than 100 occupied campsites during an inspection, according to Ehlinger's lawsuit; a campground needs a license to host more than five campsites.

In 2011, an inspection by the Minnesota Department of Health found nine health violations, prompting the Goodhue County Board to revoke Hidden Valley's conditional-use permit at the 200-site campground. Clark's ruling could finally mark the end of the lengthy legal drama — though Axelson still could re-open the campground if he brings the Welch property up to code and secures the licenses that have been missing since 2012.

However, losing the conditional-use permit has serious consequences. Hidden Valley was created six years before Minnesota adopted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1973, allowing it to avoid those restrictions through grandfathering. To obtain a new permit, Axelson would have to adjust the campsite's layout to comply with the setbacks established in the Scenic Rivers legislation.

Goodhue County commissioner Ron Allen didn't mince words when asked about Hidden Valley's ongoing issues.

"If the guy (Axelson) would just comply, he would be doing so much better," said Allen, the board chairman. "He just drags his feet and doesn't do what he's been told to do over the years.


"This has been going on for six or seven years. If you don't have a septic system, how do you expect to operate a campground? If he would have on-site supervision, he wouldn't have all the police calls. He needs to get that taken care of. Years and years and years have gone by, and he still wants to open up. He just doesn't get it."

Betcher, who has not heard from Axelson or his lawyer, expects the campground to be discussed at an April county board meeting.

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