This year is shaping up to be one of progress for the Forest Lake parks system. After a fall spent organizing and prioritizing park needs and areas for improvement, the city’s Parks, Lakes, and Trails Commission and its Parks and Recreation coordinator, Jamie Muscha, are hopeful for community input and some projects that will make the city’s recreational opportunities more accessible to all.
“We really want to make sure there’s something for everybody in the community,” Muscha said.
One key portion of the prioritization, a process encouraged by Councilman Michael Freer, was dividing the city’s 23 parks into five categories: regional, community, neighborhood, special use and open space. The regional parks (Lakeside Memorial and Fenway) are the site of most Forest Lake events that draw people in from outside the area, like Arts in the Park or regional baseball tournaments, while the community parks (Beltz, Cedar and Kulenkamp) are likely to be destination locations for city residents due to their increased amenities. Special use parks like Tower, Shields Lake and Castlewood Golf Course are primarily used for a particular recreational activity (hockey, fishing and golf, respectively), while the remaining 16 parks are either smaller, neighborhood-focused parks or primarily open green space. When it comes to resource allocation and potential improvements, Muscha said, “Our primary focuses are our regional and community parks,” though she added that the commission has also been assessing various park needs and opportunities systemwide.
“The categorization of parks has given us structure and focus,” she said.
Under the plan, Muscha explained, the commission and city can set minimum standards for each park, identify groups that could be better served by the parks department and brainstorm solutions to make the city’s park resources stretch farther. For example, Muscha is currently seeking and receiving community feedback about more ways to engage senior citizens and teens at the parks (the City Council has also mentioned teen amenities as a parks priority). Though no final decisions have been made, she is looking into the possibility of adding more courts for the senior-friendly sport of pickleball to city parks (there are already some courts at Beltz) and reviewing a variety of options for facilities that would attract teens or other kids who have aged out of playground equipment, including basketball courts, ziplines and “challenge courses” that pit participants against a series of physical obstacles.
Of course, the Parks, Lakes and Trails Commission isn’t confined to just the parks, and Muscha and committee members are also welcoming community input about ways the city can better leverage its lakes and trails to residential benefit. Muscha is hopeful that the city can organize some walking groups on the trails, and she’s exploring options for a potential bike share or bike rental program to get more people out and exercising on the system.
Muscha’s position went from part-time to full-time in 2017. She’s using her additional time on the job to seek grants, explore the expansion of city park events and further connect with residents about what they’d like to see in the park and trail system. She hopes to grow Arts in the Park and the Northern Lights Yoga, Paddle and Music Festival, she’s gauging interest in a city-run Memorial Day event at Lakeside, and, in a more timely development, she’s been hard at work coordinating with various community groups to put on a fun and busy week of activities for FLake Festival (learn more about this year’s festivities here).
Muscha is also working on forging cooperation with Forest Lake Area Schools and the YMCA for community programs. Some other capital improvements that could be on the horizon for various parks, pending grant approvals or city and community interest, include playground equipment updates at Lakeside, ice rink improvements at Tower or various amenity additions at Beltz. The commission also wants to look at getting the community more involved with the parks with ideas like volunteer cleaning crews or adopt-a-park programs.
Though Muscha and the commission have lots of ideas, few of the improvements or additions have been finalized. The early part of 2017 will be spent gathering ideas and feedback and exploring ways to accomplish various projects. Before the parks department and the city make a decision on how to improve a park or trail, Muscha said, they want to hear the ideas and priorities of residents first.
“One of my goals and objectives with the full time is more community engagement and partnerships,” she said. “This is the kind of time where you’re gearing up for the next season and finding those partnerships.”
Muscha encouraged people who have ideas for how to make the city’s parks, trails and lakes better to contact her at Jamie.Muscha@ci.forest-lake.mn.us.