Parks master plan proposes big changes

Erin Larson, 6, of Forest Lake, Autumn Langevin, 9, of Scandia, and James Sumption, 9, of Forest Lake play at Beltz Park Monday afternoon. (Photos by Clint Riese)

Erin Larson, 6, of Forest Lake, Autumn Langevin, 9, of Scandia, and James Sumption, 9, of Forest Lake play at Beltz Park Monday afternoon. (Photos by Clint Riese)

Kulenkamp, Bixby among parks slated for additions

Clint Riese
News Editor

Most recommendations are years away from reality, and all require funding not yet secured, but a plan outlining additions and improvements to Forest Lake’s parks and trails system is nearing completion.

And the proposals are significant. From additions at David H. Kulenkamp Memorial Park to the creation of several pedestrian overpasses of Highway 61, the Parks, Trails and Open Spaces Master Plan calls for phased projects that would greatly expand opportunities for recreation in Forest Lake.

“It’s really exciting to see where 10 years puts us because we’re going to have some amazing trails, we’re going to have some beautiful parks and it’s not an unrealistic plan,” city of Forest Lake Park and Recreation Coordinator Nicole Schossow said.

The master plan will be up for approval from the Park Board June 16 and the City Council in early July. First, the master plan’s authors from the engineering firm Bolton & Menk will make final adjustments to the document. The public is encouraged to review the master plan at the city’s website, www.ci.forest-lake.mn.us, and provide feedback this week. 

Plan components
Though the master plan is not required of the city, Schossow said it makes sense for a growing community to have such a detailed plan of action.

“Based on our numbers and what is considered an average for our community, we’re looking really good,” she said. “The issue is that we’re growing, and we’re growing fast, and the market’s starting to recover and we’re going to grow even faster. So that does mean that we need to grow our parks, trails and open spaces with that.”

In draft form, the master plan has four parts: overall recommendations, park and open space recommendations, trail recommendations and maintenance recommendations.

The overall category includes goals of using best management stormwater treatment techniques, installing consistent way-finding signage, improving safety and better accommodating those with physical disabilities. 

David H. Kulenkamp Park may be in store for big upgrades if recommendations in the Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan come to fruition.

David H. Kulenkamp Park may be in store for big upgrades if recommendations in the Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan come to fruition.

Specific park recommendations included major plans for Bixby Park and Kulenkamp Park. A master plan developed in 2012 for Bixby envisions a nature-oriented facility integrated with Schilling Park and Cedar Park. Raised trails would link educational displays, and a splash pad, community garden and large pavilion could also be in the works. 

That remains the idea, Schossow said.

“It will eventually become a huge community park for us,” she said. “It’s going to be our gateway park to the city.”

The dog park contemplated for Bixby will likely be established elsewhere due to wet ground conditions. Schossow has a meeting this week regarding the dog park and said opening it in 2014 is one of her top priorities.

Kulenkamp, which has 64 developed acres and many more undeveloped, has yet to tap its potential, the plan’s authors found.

“Kulenkamp Park is sized as a community park, yet used more like a neighborhood park,” the report states. “As the only sizable park serving neighborhoods on the northeast shore of Forest Lake, it offers surprisingly few amenities.”

Four ball diamonds make Kulenkamp a destination to some degree, but Schossow agrees the park’s development should be a priority.

“Wow, the sky’s the limit,” she said. “Because we have the space and there’s not a whole lot of other recreation options north of the lake, we want to really grow that park.”

Options for the large park include replacing the playground, upgrading the ball diamonds, adding facilities for other sports and providing a large pavilion. Trails blazed by residents through the Kulenkamp woods could be made permanent and groomed for cross-country skiing. 

The master plan calls for long-range planning regarding Southview Park because it has few amenities for being one of the few parks in southeast Forest Lake.

The master plan suggests consideration of selling Preserve Park, which is an undeveloped lot at 20809 Grenada Ave. Several parks are nearby.

Another empty lot, North Shore Circle Park at 7621 North Shore Circle, could be developed with a small playground, shelter and lake overlook.

From a trails perspective, crossings over Highway 61 at Highway 97 and 11th Avenue are high priorities, as is the addition of links to the Hardwood Creek Trail. A pedestrian overpass at the intersection of the two highways is contemplated in a state project planned for 2016. The bridge would connect to the county trail.

Schossow hopes to eventually see a trail around the Forest Lake chain and a regional trail connecting Forest Lake to Big Marine Park Reserve.

Maintenance is another part of the equation, and it has been lacking. Schossow said cities on average spend about 20 percent of their park budgets on upkeep, while Forest Lake spends 4 percent. She said the regular budget needs to incorporate more small maintenance work.

Recommendations from the master plan could be implemented yet this year. Park dedication fees stemming from new development is one source, while the City Council will soon begin planning next year’s budget. 

However, Schossow said most of the responsibility for securing funds will fall on her shoulders, be it through grants, partnerships or fund drives. Grant-writing was a key part of the job description for her position, which the city expanded from a part-time position when the former park director resigned in March.

Busy start
That responsibility is fine with Schossow, whose deep background in recreation programming and as a camp director is with nonprofits.

“In a nonprofit world, it’s not as if there’s this bank of money,” she said. “If you want the money, you have to find it. … I’m used to being really creative about how I get projects funded.”

The Minnesota native has lived from coast to coast and has a master’s in recreation management. She ran her own personal training and wellness coaching business while raising three children, but jumped at the chance to return to the park and recreation field when the Forest Lake position opened.

Along with her young, notebook-wielding children, Schossow has already familiarized herself with each park in the city. To prepare for considering the master plan, the Park Board also spent two three-hour trips touring each park.

“They have physically seen every park in the city, and they know what neighborhood it’s in, they know what’s there, they know what could potentially be there, they know what’s proposed in the plan to be there,” she said.

Schossow joined the city at a busy time for her department. She got right to work on Lake Fest, the Arts in the Park series and the master plan. 

“Let’s just say I jumped in with both feet,” she said. “There’s a lot going on, but it’s exciting to see.” 

Meanwhile the Park Board experienced turnover, with the resignation of Chair Anthony Groff and the addition of Mitch Berggren. Karen Morehead has assumed the chair position.

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