Parks update

Park Board prepared for potential flooding of Minnehaha Creek

While Minneapolis residents welcome the first signs of spring, officials are hoping the warm-up will be gradual so that the remaining snow won’t melt so fast it floods the Minnehaha Creek.

Models produced in mid-March by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District projected a high water level of 930.22 feet above sea level on the creek’s feeder, Lake Minnetonka. The projection is only 3 inches below the record high set in 2002. District officials are predicting moderate flooding, although Mother Nature could change things.  

Most Southwest homeowners need not worry, as nearly the entire stretch of creek between Edina and I-35W is surrounded by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board land.

However, the Watershed District encourages residents to check out its website (www.minnehahacreek.org/FloodWatch.php) for tips on preparing for a potential flood. You can also view a map of the most up-to-date flood projections at the site.

The Park Board’s Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Michael Schmidt, said the Park Board is prepared to barricade areas where the water goes over the creek’s banks and close to the paths in the park.

“There’s the potential for a problem,” he said. “We’re aware of the potential for a problem and we’re keeping an eye on it.”

Schmidt said flooding in the past has not been destructive to parkland; the park’s infrastructure can handle water for short time periods and he didn’t anticipate any problematic soil erosion.

“Is there any one or more places that we are specifically concerned about? No. We’re cognizant of the places that might be problematic, but there’s nothing that we have any angst about — that we’re going to lose a large section, or the creek is going to change its course,” Schmidt said, referring to erosion.

Schmidt said the Lynnhurst Park area would be the most affected by a flood in Southwest because it has a lower elevation and a stream coming in from Lake Harriet.

Renae Clark, project manager for the Watershed District, said the flooding projection was based on the amount of water in the snow pack, expected precipitation in the coming weeks and average snow melt over a 10-day period.

Clark said the models could change. A warm-up in February helped to get rid of some of the snow left over from a winter filled with snowstorms, but there was still plenty left in mid-March.

“It could go faster if we get a really warm spell, and it could be higher if that happens and it rains at the same time,” she said.

Forecasts for March 16–17 called for highs above 50 degrees, which is 10 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Schmidt said the weather in early March was ideal for preventing flooding. Daytime temperatures reached 40 degrees, allowing for small snow melts, followed by 20-degree nights in which the snow banks froze back up.

“We’re not assuming the worst at this point,” he said. “We’re just kind of seeing how the facts develop out there.”

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Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden opens April 1

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary is set to open April 1, giving people a chance to see the first blooming plants and migrating songbirds on their way up north.

The garden is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 30 minutes before sunset. For more information on tours and programs, visit http://tinyurl.com/48qmet5.

The garden is located within Theodore Wirth Park.

Parks update

Dog Park sites under protest again, this time by bird groups

Finding a site for an off-leash dog area in the Minneapolis Park Board’s Sixth District is proving to be a difficult task.

Absent from a Feb. 19 Park Board meeting were dozens of community members who successfully petitioned the board to remove Martin Luther King Jr. Park as possible site for a dog area, saying it disrespected the civil rights leader.

Present at the meeting was a small handful of Audubon Society members who asked the board to remove two of the three sites that the Park Board suggested as a replacement to MLK Park.

That group said that if the Park Board selects one of the two sites at Lyndale Park, migrating birds would be scared to land at the nearby Robert’s Bird Sanctuary.

Kit Healy, chair of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis’s Conservation Committee, said birds are frightened by dogs, and if they see or sense them in the area they will not land in the sanctuary. Also, the increased traffic and pedestrians that a dog park brings would only add stress to an already stressed sanctuary.

Healy said Robert’s Bird Sanctuary is an important piece of land for hundreds of species of birds migrating from the south. After the birds fly over southern Minnesota’s vast farmland and then through a developed urban Twin Cities area, the sanctuary provides a much-needed pit stop for the tired birds.

Some birds continue to northern Minnesota and Canada, while others use the sanctuary as their summer home.

The Park Board, Audobon Society, and East Harriet and Linden Hills neighborhood groups are working on a revitalization project for the sanctuary, including a management plan for making the area a better fit for birds. Healy said a dog park proposal would impede the progress of that project.

Healy and Audubon Society member Connie Pepin said they support the idea of a dog park in Southwest Minneapolis, but said the Park Board should not have limited its suggestions to three sites.

“The Park Board needs to slow down and consider all stakeholders,” Healy said.

Several Minneapolis groups, including the bird sanctuary, are in the process of appointing a 19-member citizens advisory committee that will be tasked with recommending a site to the Park Board so it can be built this summer.

Park Board President John Erwin said he would not remove the two sites near the sanctuary from contention, and said he wants to allow the citizen committee to determine the best place.

“All three sites are viable sites, and different people might have viable objections to any one of them,” he said. “There are people against any site or any change. If you look at every one of our dog parks, after the dog park is in place, people are happy with it. But initially it is always controversial.”

The third recommended site is at Lyndale Farmstead Park where there is currently a parking lot for the Park Board’s Southside Operations Center. That site is less than half the size of the two sites near the bird sanctuary.

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Business leaders float idea for Downtown Park

Several businesses leaders have proposed a plan to green Downtown by creating a park that would stretch from the center of the city to the banks of the Mississippi River.

David Wilson, Accenture’s managing director in Minneapolis, presented the proposal to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Feb. 16 on behalf of a panel made up of many prominent Downtown businesses, including Target Corp. and Piper Jaffray.

The goal is for the park to start near the light rail stop at the corner of 5th Street and Marquette Avenue and narrowly work its way toward the area just north of the Minneapolis Central Library where it would widen into two lots on either side of Nicollet Mall. The park would then follow along the east side of Hennepin Avenue to the river.

“It could be thought of as a green corridor that stretches from the central business district core all the way down to the Mississippi riverfront,” Wilson said.

The project is expected to cost at least $25 million. Wilson said the businesses are aiming for a public-private partnership to acquire, build and maintain the park.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said he will support the group’s efforts and help them raise funds, but said the city could not lead the project financially.

The plan, Rybak said, is part of a much larger vision for the city to create a green swath of parkland that runs from the riverfront on the east side of the river, through Downtown, down Nicollet Mall, to the Loring Greenway and ending at the chain of lakes.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]