How far was your Lakes jog? Park signs will tell you now

New signs are going up in the park system — signs that identify Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles; signs pointing to the nearest beach or volleyball court; even signs that tell you how far you have walked or biked.

Mary Barrick, special projects coordinator for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and director of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, said the $900,000 project includes:

– 125 new name place signs;

– 18 new information kiosks and upgrades to 30 existing kiosks with park system maps;

– Approximately 40 new directional poles, with up to a dozen blades each, pointing to such things as bathrooms, tot lots, beaches and food, indicating their distance; and

– New blue-blade biking and walking signs that will include red medallions with mileage markers. The markers begin measuring from the Longfellow House at Minnehaha Park, and go clockwise around the Grand Rounds.

The signs have drawn at least one critic. Curt Gunsbury, a Lake Harriet resident, said one of the new signs blocks his view of the lake, and the signs in general create visual pollution.

"I am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. I just think it’s foolish," Gunsbury said. "I hate billboards. . . . They never contacted the people who live next to the signs. They didn’t send out a notice."

He questioned why the Park Board couldn’t afford to put out a dock on Lake Harriet yet could afford the new signs, he said. Taking an extra shot, he pointed out the Park Board misspelled and incorrectly punctuated the "Beard’s Plaisance" sign, which reads "Beards Plaissance."

Gunsbury’s complaint is the only one she has received, Barrick said. The Park Board went through an extensive planning process that included a community task force that helped develop a parkway system master signage program.

"The public process started in 1998," Barrick said. "We did a better public process than we have ever done."

The Park Board consulted with the State Historic Preservation Office and had study groups, she said. The Park Board even built a mock up of a new sign and displayed it at Linden Hills Park, paying someone to stay there all day and get comments.

The federal government paid 80 percent of the cost, the Park Board 20 percent, Barrick said. A private donor gave $80,000, leaving the Park Board’s share at $100,000. The Park Board earmarked the money in 2000 as required for the federal match, before the Park Board’s recent budget crunch hit. It is using the federal money to build the new signs in its own sign shop, helping avoid layoffs.

The new signs are in the Prairie School design, she said.

"At Lake Harriet, you will see the removal of the giant, ugly black-and-white billboard signs at the Rose Garden and Peace Garden," Barrick said.

The Park Board has received compliments on the signs, Barrick said. The other day she got a $35 check in the mail from a woman in Tangletown with a letter reading, "Love the signs."