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West St. Paul is dreaming big when it comes to parks. City Manager Nate Burkett is asking the council and committees for big ideas.
“We have some really great parks, but I know we can get even better and the only way to do that is to consider more options,” Burkett said. “If we keep aiming for the bare minimum—simply replacing and maintaining what we have—we will, at best, get the bare minimum.”
The Brainstorming Begins
Burkett addressed the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) in April, encouraging them to dream big: “I would like to hear your biggest, grandest, greatest ideas.”
During the May meeting, the committee started discussing ideas. Some proposals are already in city plans, including a skateboard park, a paved trail around Mud Lake, and a concrete surface in the Orme Park hockey rink for year-round use.
“I could tell they weren’t quite sure how to tackle Nate’s ask of dreaming big because it’s such a gigantic shift,” said Council Member Wendy Berry, the City Council representative for the PRAC. “But I think that’ll change as they’ve had some time to think about it.”
New ideas from the committee included a food forest, observation tower at Marthaler Park, zip line, indoor golf dome, fully accessible playgrounds, treasure hunts, charging stations (both for electrical vehicles and for phones), and more.
“One thing I want to encourage everyone as we talk about these ideas—go out to the parks,” PRAC Chair Dave Lynch said, encouraging the other committee members to visualize each suggestion and potentially spark new ideas.
“This new direction of not letting limits get in the way allows them to do more, it allows them to really think strategically,” Berry said. “It’s so much more than just deciding if we should pick an orange playground or a purple one.”
What About Reality?
A cynic might point out that all these ideas are really expensive. How could they possibly become reality?
“By daring to consider the big ideas we might come up with innovative solutions that make them possible,” Burkett said. “If we don’t know what those ideas are, we will never know if we can make them a reality.”
For example, if a community center is something residents want, then we can make that a long-term goal and explore partnerships, grants, or simply saving to make it possible.
How quickly could any of this happen? It all depends. Some suggestions will never become reality, while others could happen more quickly.
“If there are widely supported big ideas we may be able to make reasonable trade offs or find funding sources for them, they could happen in the next couple of years,” Burkett said. “I like when we have options on the table so that the council can decide how to prioritize our resources. I don’t think we are genuinely offering options if we are only suggesting repair, maintenance or replacement.”
Burkett hopes to see the city create a master plan for parks that includes the usual maintenance and replacement, but also includes the big ideas.
Historic Big Ideas
This isn’t the first time West St. Paul has dreamed big about their parks. The $6.2 million renovation of Harmon Park included the bigger, bolder idea of a splash pad. Completed in 2015, the splash pad has been wildly popular and draws regular crowds in the summer.
You could also look back even further to the creation of the disc golf course at Garlough Park or the ski hill at Marthaler Park.
What’s Your Idea?
“Council Member Dick Vitelli always talks about how we should be done with the mindset of things being ‘good enough for West St. Paul,’ and he’s absolutely right,” Berry said.
So let’s think big. Maybe it’s a community garden, geo caching, or mini golf. Think bigger: Maybe it’s a bird-watching gazebo on Mud Lake, a bike park with a pump track and skills course, or a Little Free Library for park and sports equipment.
How big should we think? The long-term ideas for Thompson Park included a land bridge spanning Highway 52 that would connect Thompson and Kaposia Parks.
Let’s hear your ideas. Share them in the comments below or send them directly to the city. You can email Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Dave Schletty at email@example.com.
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