Parks update: Distance swimming proposal muddled

Distance swimming proposal gets muddled at Park Board

Long-distance swimmers in Minneapolis who’ve wanted an area to unleash their breaststroke now have a 1,500-yard course at Lake Calhoun’s north beach to do so.

Sort of.

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Brad Bourn originally had a broader plan for distance swimming at the beach. He had hoped to create a course to satisfy swimmers who have long wanted a place to legally train in Minneapolis lakes.

But when the Park Board went to contract a company to set up the course and staff it, things got tangled. Along with providing swimming clinics, Bourn said he had hoped that OptumHealth Care Solutions, a Golden Valley health services company, would allow experienced swimmers to use the course for free while the clinics were held.

That didn’t happen because Bourn said OptumHealth officials changed their minds about offering free open swimming and instead asked that experienced swimmers who need no assistance pay $5 — the same as those who are using the clinic and getting lessons.

Still, the Park Board on July 7 agreed on a contract with OptumHealth to run the clinics. The course will be placed just outside the normal swimming area, where Park Board harvesters have cleared milfoil.

OptumHealth will charge $5 to put on the clinic, with half of that fee going to the Park Board. Those sessions will be held from 5–8 p.m. every Thursday through Labor Day. “I’m ecstatic and disappointed at the same time,” said Bourn, who touted the clinics as a great service to swimmers.

Bourn said he expected OptumHealth to allow experienced swimmers to use the course for free, since the company was getting a beach full of publicity and recognition by hosting the clinic at a premier summer hot spot in the Twin Cities.

An OptumHealth manager did not return a phone message seeking comment.

When asked how a private company could prevent someone from swimming out into public water, Bourn acknowledged that the situation made him uncomfortable, which is why he abstained from the Park Board vote.

He noted that it’s currently illegal for people to swim beyond the normal buoyed area at north beach, and OptumHealth is essentially operating in deeper waters with a special permit.

Bourn said he is hopeful that next summer the course will be opened for free swimming.

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Loring Park, Sculpture Garden may go to a public-private model

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is formulating a plan that would turn over the operation of Loring Park and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to a non-profit alliance made up of public officials and private business representatives.

The Park Board would provide base funding for maintenance, capitol improvements and programming. The Downtown Park Alliance and its private partners would be expected to generate additional revenue.

According to the memo, the Alliance would have a board of directors that would oversee operations and would include representatives from the neighborhood, downtown businesses, the Walker Art Center and the Park Board.

The Alliance would be in charge of contracting for park maintenance as well as approving special event permits, including permits for the Loring Park Art Festival and the GLBT Pride Festival.

The Park Board is expected to take up the matter at its Aug. 17 meeting.