A not-so-hidden beach

 

Park Board unveils strategies for fighting crime at Cedar Lake beach

KENWOOD – Hidden Beach will not be so hidden anymore.

That was Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Jon Gurban’s message to a group of Kenwood residents when he unveiled plans to curb crime at the popular but illicit beach March 12.

Gurban said several changes are in store for the beach this spring, including: aggressive vegetation management to improve sightlines; a gravel path for emergency vehicle access; and a more visible presence by both park patrol agents and park police officers, especially at the beginning of the swimming season.

Perhaps most significantly, the park will be made a “semi-authorized beach” in Gurban’s words. A lifeguard will be posted at the currently unsupervised shoreline 12-8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer.

Many neighbors had complained for years about noise, drug and alcohol use, littering and other problems associated with the secluded park on the east shore of Cedar Lake. But those gathered at the Kenwood Recreation Center to hear the Park Board proposal also expressed strong reservations about any plan that would mar the undeveloped, natural beauty of the site.

Those hoping to tame the beach-goers but leave the beach untamed balked at proposals to continue development over several years.

Gurban quickly scrapped plans for between 15 and 40 parking spaces in the park when he encountered strong resistance from the 16 people at the meeting. Several picnic tables will be installed this year, but proposals for a small tot lot remain on the drawing board.

Chris Shaheen, who lives about two blocks from Hidden Beach, was one of several people who asked Gurban to “strike a balance.”

“It’s 10 percent of the people who use the beach that cause the problem,” Shaheen said, adding that Park Board staff should “proceed carefully.”

Park problems growing

It may be a small group of people causing problems at the beach, but they take up an inordinate amount of police time, said Sgt. Fred McCormick of the Minneapolis Park Police.

McCormick said arrests and citations at Hidden Beach increased to 234 in 2006 from just 36 in 2004. By comparison, there were only 13 arrests or citations last year at all other Southwest lakes combined.

“It’s not that there’s more people down there, it’s just that the behavior is changing a little bit,” he said. “It’s a little bit more unruly”

The most common offense at Hidden Beach last year was being in the park after hours followed by alcohol and narcotics violations.

Charlie Lazor, who lives about a block from the beach, said he has witnessed an organized effort by regular partiers to avoid arrest. They post lookouts to warn of approaching police and stash alcohol before they are caught, Lazor said.

“You have a pretty resistant sort of weed to dig out there,” he told Gurban and McCormick.

Kenwood residents Roy and Kathy Williams said problems at the beach spill out into the neighborhood, especially when late-night revelers make their way back to the Uptown area.

“That’s the one thing we’re concerned about – the people who come staggering back,” said Kathy Williams.

“There’s trash, there’s noise, there’s vandalizing of cars and property,” Roy Williams added.

Last year, the Williams’ car was parked on the street when it was sideswiped sometime early in the morning, causing about $2,000 in damage. They blame a drunk driver leaving the beach.

Gurban said he planned to head off beach problems with a strong show of force in the spring.

“We’re going to get control of the park back,” Gurban said, eliciting applause from the small crowd of attendees.

More family amenities

An increased presence of parks employees and police was just one part of a two-pronged attack on illegal activity at Hidden Beach.

Gurban said they hoped to make partiers uncomfortable by drawing more families to the beach. Picnic tables would invite families to linger at the beach, and a future tot lot would give youngsters a place to play outside of the water, he said.

Still, some questioned whether development could deter crime.

Keith Prussing, president of the Cedar Lake Park Association, argued changes at Hidden Beach could push criminal activity into wooded areas north and south of the park.

“I hope in all this that it just wouldn’t become a problem for the larger area,” Prussing said.

The majority of park problems crop up after hours, an issue the parks department plan does not directly address, he added.

Gurban responded that no plan could completely eliminate crime at the beach. But he said several of the strategies – including a visible, uniformed presence – have curbed crime at other city parks.

“Things are going to change,” Gurban said. “Most of it, we hope, will be for the better.”

Reach Dylan Thomas at 436-4391 or [email protected].