July 2012 Meeting

This month we approved an amendment to the Policy Plan adding two regional trails to the system, both in the west Metro. We had discussed these additions back in April, and then the required public hearing was held last month with no opposition voiced, allowing us to approve the additions this month. The Intercity RT will be a short north-south link in Richfield and Bloomington connecting the Minneapolis Chain of Lake and Grand Rounds to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, passing the planned Nine Mile Creek RT and Mall of America on the way. It is hoped that the southern end can also connect to the Minnesota Valley State Trail and other regional trails in Dakota County, but the specifics of that are currently hung up on issues of both historical landmark preservation and funding availability regarding reconstructing the old Cedar Avenue Bridge across Long Meadow Lake in the NWR. Meanwhile, the Minnetrista Regional Trail will be a north-south link between the Lake Minnetonka LRT RT and Luce Line State Trail, including connections with Carver Park Reserve, Lake Minnetonka RP, Gale Woods Farm, and the Dakota Rail RT. This connection is important because existing trails in that area are all east-west trails fanning out from Minneapolis along old railroad right-of-ways, making north-south travel difficult. The Luce Line State Trail currently also provides access to Baker Park Reserve and the planned Sarah Creek RT via the city of Orono, although we had also discussed trying to find a more direct link from the planned northern end of the new trail to Baker that wouldn't be quite as long of a detour.

As requested last month, Metropolitan Council staff provided us with a packet of data about Park Acquisition Opportunity Fund grants to help inform our discussions around potentially changing the rules for disbursements from that fund. The proposed changes are to:

  1. Eliminate the 25% local match required of the implementing park agency
  2. Reduce the cumulative amount a park agency can receive in a fiscal year
  3. Remove minimal recreational development of acquired land from the eligible costs from this fund

At our June meeting we had directed staff to a) give us breakdowns of grants awarded by park agency and MPOSC district, and b) meet with implementing agency staff and work on developing a consensus recommendation from them. This report included the data for (a), and meetings for (b) have started now and we're hoping to get some kind of answer out of that process at our August meeting. While completely unrelated to the actual issue being discussed, one thing that jumped out at me in this report was how few of these grants have gone to my district. I'll need to do some follow-up with Ramsey County and Anoka County staff to find out if there's anything I should be doing to help change that.

In another informational item, Metropolitan Council staff provided the 2011 annual use estimate report for the regional parks system. The basic summary is that our parks, trails, reserves, open spaces, and special recreation features had nearly 44 million visits last year, a 10% increase over the year before. The most-visited features in my district were Long Lake RP (471,700 visits), Highway 96 RT (480,400 visits), Coon Rapids Dam RP (523,500 visits), Grass-Vadnais-Snail Lake RP (629,900 visits), and Bunker Hills RP (824,500 visits).

For our last item, during the "Commissioner Reports" section I brought up some questions and concerns regarding recent actions of the Minneapolis Parks Board. Debra Pilger, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's Director of Environmental Services, was present to answer questions. As you may have seen in the news, two weeks ago they adopted an emergency measure intended to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species that included some additional restrictions on lake access within regional parks, which was the source of my concern. First, some clarification of the new rules, since reporting in the media was sometimes incomplete and confusing:

  • The boat launch on Wirth Lake is now closed.
  • The boat launches on Calhoun, Harriet, and Nokomis lakes are limited to operational hours of 6AM-10AM and 5PM-9PM Monday-Thursday and 6AM-9PM Friday-Sunday.
  • All boats using these launches will be subject to an invasive species inspection before entering the lake. Any boater using a launch outside of inspection hours will be subject to a citation and fine.
  • For purposes of these restricting, "launch" and "launching" refers specifically to putting a boat into the water with the use of a trailer and the concrete ramp associated with doing so. It does not apply to any hand-launched watercraft, such as canoes, kayaks, SUPs, or very small sailboats, even if they are put into the water at the stretch of shoreline associated with the launch and transported to the lake atop a car that is then parked in the lot associated with the launch. In short, there is a distinction being made between the launch and the access, which was not at all clear to me initially and a critical point when considering availability of our public water resources.
  • There are no restrictions on when a boat may exit the lake, only on entry.
  • Minneapolis lakes were already limited to unmotorized and trolling-motor-only craft prior to these changes.
  • Training of the inspectors is being done through the DNR.
  • These rules and operational hours are currently planned to be in effect through September 30th. A task force exists to plan for beyond that point as well as to possibly make modifications before then based on feedback received.
  • MPRB staff noted that while they are already working closely with sailing groups, they need more input from the angling community to inform their future decisions.
  • Current actions already being done to solicit input include doing surveys of launch users about hours of operation and handing out sign-up cards for a discussion mailing list.
  • Planned actions include setting up a voicemail box to collect feedback calls from a broader portion of the population, and coordinating with other groups and agencies over the next few months.

Once all of that was clarified, my concerns were essentially as follows:

  • While combating invasive species is obviously important, I'm uncomfortable with any change that reduces access to our parks, both for the immediate effects and the precedent it could set. We want to be expanding access and use, not limiting them, so we need to be extremely careful about changes like this.
  • Besides being in a park, water access has a special status in Minnesota, under statute, rule, Constitution, and culture. This is particularly true of water bodies containing a fishery. We need to ensure that any use restrictions do not significantly impede on those rights and values. It is for this reason that it's particularly significant that canoes and kayaks still be allowed both on the water surface and through the public access point.
  • Since one of the key factors in declaring something a regional park is that it is expected to draw visitors from across the metro region, we need to make sure that communication and input solicitation efforts over the next few months involve stakeholders from across the region, not just in Minneapolis. Remember that I am one piece of that, so if you have feedback on this topic please contact me.

Since this was done as an emergency measure, it was very sudden and unclear initially. I feel a lot better about it after getting those clarifications and hearing about their plans for feedback going forward, but we'll need to make sure to continue following their decision-making process in coming months to make sure everyone's concerns get heard and addressed.

Meeting minutes are available here.

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