Another summer, another attempt to tame Hidden Beach

Working with the Park Board, a Kenwood-neighborhood committee will develop solutions for rowdy behavior

KENWOOD — Another attempt to tame Hidden Beach is in the works.

With drug- and alcohol-related incidents on the upswing this summer, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is seeking the advice of neighbors on how best to tamp down rowdy and disruptive behavior at the beach. At Monday’s well-attended meeting of the Kenwood Isles Area Association, parks Superintendent Jayne Miller urged the neighborhood to focus on “incremental solutions,” since the resources aren’t available to change the beach’s culture overnight.

“We need your help as a neighborhood: What do we prioritize first?” Miller said.

For decades, successive generations of young Minneapolitans have rediscovered the secluded swimming spot where seemingly anything goes, including nudity and public consumption of alcohol. That’s a turn-off for many neighbors, including Nicole Frost, who said her family stopped visiting after a naked man sat down next to her children’s babysitter.

In 2007, the Park Board attempted to get a handle on things by making the illicit beach an official park, renaming it East Cedar Lake Beach and adding lifeguards for the first time. That summer, parks crews cleared vegetation to open sight lines and added a gravel path for emergency vehicle access. But the reputation remained.

The popular beach is not easily accessible by transit. On warm summer days nearby streets are often packed with cars. Some of the more than 20 residents who turned out Monday complained of speeding and dangerous driving they blame on beach-goers.

Minneapolis Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said 60 police reports have been written at Hidden Beach so far this year, the vast majority related to the use and possession of alcohol and marijuana. That’s more than twice as many reports as this time last year but on par with numbers from 2012 and 2011.

Police officers from Minneapolis’ Fifth Precinct regularly patrol the beach just before its 10 p.m. closing time, sometimes clearing out crowds of 125–300 people. Officers have written as many as 30 citations in one night for being in the park after closing time.

Kenwood resident Michael Bono said it’s after the park closes when bad behavior at the beach spills out into the neighborhood. Residents blame incidents of public urination, vandalism and even burglary on Hidden Beach partiers.

Fifth Precinct Inspector Todd Loining, who also met with the neighborhood Monday, cautioned residents that its not possible to link beach-goers with neighborhood burglaries, but said there’s a “high probability” some are connected. Loining said violent crime has not been an issue at the beach this summer.

Still, Park Police spend more time and resources on Hidden Beach than any of the city’s dozen public beaches.

“We don’t have the issues at any other beach we have here,” Miller said.

While some would like to see the beach closed, Miller said that would likely make the problems there worse. It drew a partying crowd before it was an official beach and would continue to if it closed, agreed citywide Park Board Commissioner Meg Forney, also present at the meeting.

“I’m a native. I’ve known of Hidden Beach my entire life. It hasn’t changed one iota,” Forney said.

Some actions the neighborhood and Park Board may consider include adding signage and lighting at the beach. Other ideas that surfaced Monday include adding off-street parking or petitioning the city to make nearby streets permit-only parking.

Loining raised the idea of clearing away even more brush from the beach area, so that people engaging in illicit activities “don’t feel so protected.” But that’s been controversial in the past, and likely would be again.

As much as Hidden Beach’s neighbors residents resent the illegal activity there, they prize a piece of parkland that, at least compared to other city beaches, remains in a relatively undeveloped state. When pruning came up in 2007, neighbors urged the Park Board to proceed with caution.

Whatever emerges from this latest collaboration between Kenwood and the Park Board, it’s unlikely to involve an increased police presence. Ohotto said policy change at the board level would be more effective than increased enforcement — something his department can’t afford, anyway.

“We can’t police ourselves out of this problem,” Ohotto said.