Parks update // Chinese garden proposed

Chinese garden proposed for Washburn Fair Oaks Park

Washburn Fair Oaks Park could someday be home to both the state’s first Chinese garden and the country’s first northern-style Chinese garden.

That’s the hope of the nonprofit Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, which has been working since 2008 with Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff to develop a plan for the Whittier-based park.

The society is proposing to build an open-style garden with a Chinese bridge and waterfall in the park’s southeast section. There would be decorated Chinese rock, as well as an open-air pavilion that could be used for special events. Existing trees would be complemented with a number of weeping willows.

Chinese gardens are considered places of peace and personal reflection. To the Garden Society, the Washburn Fair Oaks site also would reflect the importance of the city’s China connections. Minneapolis’ sister city Harbin is considered a possible partner for the project.

The idea of a Chinese garden was brought up when Mayor R.T. Rybak last year traveled to Harbin. Meet Minneapolis’ Bill Deef, who accompanied Rybak, said the city’s leaders responded enthusiastically.

“They’re ready to get started when we are,” Deef said.

Before the plan can move ahead, though, a few steps have to be taken. That includes getting approval from the board’s commissioners to officially designate Washburn Fair Oaks as the garden’s site. There also are some safety issues to consider, Commissioner Scott Vreeland said.

Superintendent Jon Gurban noted that the garden would only take up one corner of a park that really needs to be touched up in its entirety.

“It’s very tired,” Gurban said. “This would be a very welcome addition, but you have to look at the whole park.”

Still, commissioners discussed more positives than negatives after an April 21 presentation on the plan. In particular, they liked the idea that the garden would be directly across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, home to a large Chinese art collection. Park Board President John Erwin said the garden topic might be broached during an upcoming meeting between the board and the museum’s trustees.

The Garden Society projects a $1.5 million to $2 million price tag, which the Park Board can’t cover. Society President Linda Mealey-Lohmann said fundraising would be able to begin as soon as a site is officially designated.

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Board lays out goals for remainder of 2010

It may already be the middle of spring, but the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board recently adopted its formal list of goals for 2010.

The six-part document spreads itself fairly equally between political and parks and recreation ideas. There’s no doubt, though, that the board is wary of going down the same road as other cities’ parks departments, where neighborhood centers are being closed due to budget cuts. While St. Paul has been forced to slash its number of recreation centers, the Minneapolis Park Board’s No. 1 goal this year is to increase the quality of amenities, services and programs in neighborhood parks.

The commissioners’ No. 2 goal is to organize a citywide, co-sponsored greening event, while goal No. 3 is to increase community engagement.

No. 4 on the list is to host a successful national parks conference — the National Recreation and Park Association will be here in October — and successfully hire a new superintendent.

The board also reiterated its interest in gaining more control over its finances. Having been weeding itself off of local-government aid for the past few years in anticipation of state budget cuts, the board wants to up its budget’s non-property tax-based revenue by 5 percent.

Its sixth and final goal shows a special interest in boosting the parks system’s political standing. A year after talk of the board’s elimination dominated local politics discussions, commissioners have made it a distinct goal to improve their relationship with other governmental bodies while strengthening their own system’s independence.

Get the detailed list at http://bit.ly/a0Ro2u.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the order of the Park Board’s 2010 goals.