Park Board committee recommends Lake Calhoun name change

Board has already updated signs to reflect lake’s Dakota name

Credit: Photo by Eric Best

Commissioners on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Planning Committee unanimously backed a measure Wednesday recommending that Lake Calhoun be known as its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.

The vote comes after years of push from residents, activists and Native American groups to drop the name of Calhoun, a former vice president and proponent of slavery. The board has previously recognized the Dakota name, which means Lake White Earth, with updated signage around the Southwest Minneapolis lake. Recently, Yale University dropped Calhoun’s name from a residential college.

“Last night, the Minneapolis Park Board made the decision to lead on an effort to heal some deep scars in our community instead of sitting on the sidelines,” said District Commissioner Brad Bourn, who serves on the committee, in a statement Thursday.

Despite the vote, which moves to the full board in May, the Park Board lacks the power to rename the lake on its own. Commissioners passed a recommendation from an appointed Community Advisory Committee to rename the lake that requests the board petition the Hennepin County Board, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Legislature to pass an official name change.

“We currently lack the authority to actually change the name of the lake, and it’s going to be a long, complicated process to have happen,” said District 5 Commissioner Steffanie Musich. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

Some local business owners have begun to embrace the name change. Last year, Luke Breen, owner of Perennial Cycle, changed the name of his bike shop from Calhoun Cycle after nearly 20 years in business.

“The name of the lake— Calhoun —clearly, people care about it. It’s your crown jewel that you’re dealing with right here. Yet, we’ve got a name that’s a problem, and I think you got an opportunity to show respect for the real history of the lake,” he told commissioners.

The name change discussion was related to the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan, a 25-year vision for improvements to the parkland surrounding the lakes. The Park Board is planning several short-term and long-term improvements to the area, likely one of the most visited regional park in the state with an estimated five million visits annually. Nearly 80 percent of visitors come for the trails.

A public hearing on the issue went on for over an hour with a majority of speakers testifying in favor of the name change. The board received more than 2,200 comments from over 600 people on the master plan in recent months.

Implementing capital projects included in the plan would run the board more than $125 million and many would require additional approval from the board and other local agencies.

Among many improvements included in the plan are proposals to build a land bridge or green “lid” over Lake Street West and a plan to relocate boat launches and a sailing school from the northeast corner of Lake Calhoun to the northwest corner. It also lays the groundwork for a new pier over the lake near the Lake Harriet Bandshell.