Parks update // New docks

Beach slump prompts push for new docks

For Southwest resident Steve Young, living one block from Lake Calhoun’s Thomas Beach is no commodity. Because Young, president of the Fulton Neighborhood Association (FNA), sees Shady Oak Beach in Minnetonka as a better place for he and his family to swim.

“There was a time when our beaches were teeming with families and kids,” he said. But now, he says, strict beach rules and the removal of docks have taken the fun out of swimming.

Young has allies in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Commissioner Bob Fine, who has lived through the changes of the beaches, cited the removal of the docks as one reason he has seen beach attendance decline over the last couple decades. Another reason, he said, is the growing popularity of “more structured” summer activities for young children.

“When I lifeguarded in the late ’60s [and] early ’70s,” the commissioner said, “the beaches used to be packed in the city, but it was a different environment.”

Fine also has an ally on the dock issue: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

“I’m strongly in favor of Commissioner Fine’s efforts,” Rybak said in a statement. “As someone who grew up swimming off of docks on our lakes, it would make my heart sing to get them back.”

The docks became a liability, and were taken out sometime in the 1980s, Fine said. He has had trouble convincing fellow board members to get on board with his wish because of the risks involved with docks. Since docks require paid lifeguards at the beaches as well, they are not welcome in a time of extreme budget cuts.

“If every suburban pool with a water slide can get around liability issues, surely we can figure out a way to bring the [swimming] docks back,” Rybak said. “There may be some risk involved, but it is certainly less than the risk of raising an entire generation whose only idea of fun is playing video games and not getting out and enjoying Minneapolis’ lakes to the fullest.”

A new generation of board members, as of January of this year, has been more open to the idea, Fine said. One such member is commissioner Brad Bourn, to whom a letter asking for docks was sent by Young and FNA in April. The Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) has supported the effort.

Bourn represents most of Southwest and said there are “misperceptions” about the level of danger and liability associated with docks. Newer designs are safer than the old-fashioned types that may come to mind at first, he said.

Convincing the Board to reinstate the docks is a matter of “educating other commissioners and educating other staff members about how the technology has come [so far], like how it’s safer,” Bourn said.

The next step in this initiative is to get a proposal for the docks through committee, Bourn said, cautioning that “it’s a new item, so with a shrinking budget, that’s an … obstacle.”

Understanding the budget issues, Young suggested reaching out to private resources like the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to fund the docks.

Young hopes the public is included in the proceedings. “Whether the review takes the form of an internal review or they set up a citizens’ advisory commission, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “As long as there is public input and advice from the park staff, I think the end results will benefit everyone.”

While Young’s letter also cited overly strict beach rules as a reason the beaches are no longer fun, both Fine and Bourn said the docks are an easier problem to tackle right now. While docks require a “nominal” amount of money, changing the rules requires going through a long ordinance change procedure, Bourn said. “The docks are definitely the lower-hanging fruit,” he said.

But the rules, which disallow floatation equipment and swim play like “riding piggyback,” can paradoxically be a safety hazard at times, Young said. He said he knows parents who only bring their children to beaches early mornings before lifeguards arrive, to avoid being admonished for certain play or inflatable devices.

“The park board may think they are prioritizing safety with these overly restrictive rules, but I think it’s having the opposite effect,” Young said.

“It’s a great thing we have in Minneapolis,” Bourn said. “Yes, we don’t have beaches on the ocean. But we’ve got these internal beaches with great atmosphere,” he said. “Why not take advantage of it?”




Park Board applies for grant to study Lake Harriet health

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has decided it’s time for Lake Harriet to get a checkup.

The board frequently receives complaints about the lake’s smells and surface algae and is hoping to perform a diagnostic study — funded by a $55,000 matching grant from the state — to see just how healthy the popular body of water is.

“These grants are specifically being put out to prevent lakes from being designated as impaired lakes,” said the board’s Environmental and Field Services Director Debra Lynn Pilger.

Pilger presented the details of the “clean water partnership grant” to the board at its Aug. 4 meeting. A resolution authorizing an application to the state’s Pollution Control Agency for the grant was unanimously approved. The application is due Aug. 13.

Pilger said Minneapolis is already home to five nutrient-impaired lakes: Brownie, Nokomis, Wirth, Hiawatha and Powderhorn. The study could help the Park Board develop an action plan to keep Harriet from joining the list.

“Really the state of Minnesota is looking to help prevent further degradation of some of these water bodies that are generally in decent shape, but have room for improvement,” Pilger said.

She said the study would put the Park Board in a position to apply for further state funding if improvements to the lake are needed. Following the study, she said, the Park Board would work with community members to develop the management plan.  

The city’s Public Works Department committed $30,000 toward the matching grant, which will come from storm water utilities. The Park Board will provide the remaining $25,000 through regional park lottery finds and in-kind labor.  

Lake Harriet was again in the spotlight late last month, when a mass of dead panfish drifted to shore. Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said the kill was the result of Columnaris, a disease common in small fish when water temperatures rise and the fish become stressed. Lake Harriet supports thousands of fish, she said, and the loss represented a tiny percentage.


Community concerned about Loring Park staff switch

Several Loring Park residents showed up at the Aug. 4 Park Board meeting to express concerns about the transfer of neighborhood park staff at the height of activity season. 

The residents said they found out about the departure of Park Director Laurie Spark on the day of the neighborhood’s torchlight parade, which drew over 1,000 people. They said they received no advance notice and there was no transition period, which caused problems because Spark had helped organize a variety of summer park activities, such as Movies in the Park and the Loring Park Art Festival.

Jana Metge, coordinator of Citizens for a Loring Park Community, said the sudden change smacked in the face of the Park Boards efforts to improve community engagement.  

"What happened at the Loring Park Neighborhood and in Loring Park with staffing changes is an example of what not to do," she said. 

The neighborhood group read a resolution recommending the development of a transition plan and standard lengths for staff assignments at specific locations.

Interim Park Board Superintendent David Fisher, who makes staffing changes, said the residents made good points, but he wasn’t prepared to comment further on the matter.  


City/Park Board look for new I-35W Bridge memorial site

 Plans for a long-anticipated memorial to the victims of the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of the I-35W Bridge are being moved from leased land at Gold Medal Park to permanent parkland near the river.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a motion at its July 21 meeting to work with Mayor R.T. Rybak, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, representatives of victims and donors to find a “suitable location” for the memorial. At least one potential site is a plot of land near 11th Avenue and West River Parkway.  

Interim Park Board Superintendent David Fisher said he recently walked the area with the mayor and representatives from the memorial’s architecture firm, Oslund and Associates. Because of the new site’s parameters, the design could change to something more long and linear with an overlook, he said. The current design for the “remembrance garden” features a low, circular, bubbling fountain surrounded by 13 pillars representing the people who lost their lives when the bridge crashed into the Mississippi River.

Gold Medal Park was thrown out as an option because it is leased property owned by the city and Guthrie Theater and its use could potentially change. Rybak approached the Park Board about the move and was well received.

“This is a tragedy that happened on and over adjoining parkland,” said Park Board President John Erwin. “I think it’s appropriate for [the memorial] to go on land that can stay a park forever.”


Park Board to launch riverfront design competition

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Planning Committee at its July 21 meeting approved launching a request for qualifications (RFQ) as the start of a riverfront design competition.

The hope is to garner interest from developers across the nation, choose four to six finalists and have them compete in the design and implementation of a riverfront plan.

“What’s intended here is to really do a broad new design for the riverfront,” said Park Board President John Erwin. “We want to make sure it makes Minneapolis unique nationally and internationally.

Annie Young, an at-large commissioner on the Park Board, said she saw the potential for a revamped riverfront as the “jewel in our crown.”

“I think this is a once in a lifetime chance to really do something spectacular,” she said.

Interim Park Board Superintendent David Fisher, a driver of the competition, said he’d like to choose finalists by October and have the teams finish models by November or December.

“I would like to see a little bit of it myself, before I leave,” he said. “I’d like to feel like I can be a part of it.”