Residents of both Bismarck and Mandan love the Missouri River, but sometimes accessing the “big muddy” can be a challenge.

Now, lawmakers are hoping to change that.

The State Government Finance Committee is studying whether or not to green-light around 300 acres of land in south Bismarck as a new State Park.

KX News met up with Wayde Schafer of the Sierra Club. They’ve been pushing for a park there for close to a decade.

There’s really limited access to the Missouri River in the Bismarck-Mandan area. And it’s right across the river from Fort Lincoln State Park, so, when you look across the river from the blockhouses, you see the land that’s pretty much the same as when Custer left North Dakota to go to Little Big Horn. It’s a unique area– there’s not many natural areas along the river that would be worthy of preservation and this is one of them.

But there’s a problem. The land sits just south of the Missouri River Correctional Center, and even though it’s minimum security, prison officials and the department of corrections have expressed concerns about contraband if the park should be approved.

The park was actually approved years ago by the Dalrymple administration but never materialized because of a lack of funding.

At Fort Lincoln State Park in Mandan, you can see the area where this proposed park is going to go, and State lawmakers KX News spoke with say they would love to see additional river access in the Bismarck and Mandan area.

One of those is Senator Erin Oban, a member of the Finance Committee who says she’d love more access but wants to hear more about the project first.

“It would be, I think beneficial for Bismarck, so as a resident of Bismarck, obviously there is far more public access and benefits to a park than certainly a correctional facility, but we also have a need to serve that population of folks who are incarcerated,” said Oban.

KX News reached out to the State Parks Department who signed a Memorandum in 2018 with the Corrections Department to provide management and operation responsibilities for that parcel of land and they tell us, “North Dakota Parks and Recreation will continue to work with state legislators and stakeholders as discussions occur.”

Both the Senator and the Sierra Club agree that it can either be the park or the prison, not both.

“What I feel fairly strongly about is it doesn’t make sense to do half and half. To have MRCC still located there and to do a park on part of the other acreage, to me it would make more sense to do all or nothing,” said Oban.

“I see it as they either have to put a lot of money into the existing MRCC or move it to another location, kind of like when you have a car that you’ve had for a while and things are going wrong with it, do you sink more money into it or do you get a new car? We’re at that point with the MRCC,” said Schafer.

The committee is expected to debate the plan further at their next meeting in August.