NEWS | HEADLINES

St. Paul Parks and Recreation System Plan Nears Completion | 12.10

[IMAGE]by Jerry Rothstein

Since 2008, when St. Paul Parks and Recreation began to create its “vision plan” to foster the creation of active lifestyles, vibrant places and a vital environment, the department has been moving toward changes and refinements to the overall system that respond to new circumstances. These include demographics that see a generally aging and more diverse population with fewer children; environmental concerns becoming increasingly important; a wider range of activities; and the universal need to do more with less money, because “the city can no longer afford to operate the system as it stands.”

In November, the department released its draft System Plan, and held five public review sessions. A special public hearing on the system plan takes place January 10, 2011 from 6:30-8pm at the Phalen Golf Course Clubhouse. It can be viewed at stpaul.gov/index.aspx?nid=3845.
The one overarching goal of the System Plan is to transform the St. Paul parks and recreation system into a 21st century system, by “responding creatively to change, innovating with every decision and connecting the entire city.”

At a time when the Great River Park Master Plan process is occupying so much energy, and its three goals of more natural, more connected and more urban are being thought out, Parks and Rec also has three subgoals to make the system more relevant, more connected and more sustainable. The common element of connection is vital to both grand visions. Parks and Rec’s System Plan defers to the Great River Park Master Plan for guidance on the long range vision for future development, revitalization and implementation.

Elements of the System
There are seven interrelated components that make the new system responsive to the identified changes. Activities, not facilities, are the primary focus, in a system quickly responsive and flexible to community needs. All sectors of the population receive equitable services in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner. Partnerships help to leverage resources to be more effective. And two major elements tie everything together: (a) The system is organized around improving trails and greenways and creating new corridors of access to the major regional parks and smaller neighborhood sites; and (b) the buildings now called recreation centers evolve into community centers with broader goals: they are accessible; offer opportunities for all age groups, economic levels, ethnic backgrounds; they are open year round to maximize use of building and staff. See below for how Palace Rec becomes this kind of center.

The Transformed System
Composed of a group of regional parks linked by Grand Rounds, other trail connections and a network of community oriented centers, the evolving system promises a variety of centers of activity linking by corridors that themselves provide recreational experiences. The Grand Rounds, an idea first formed more than 100 years ago, may be approaching completion, and a good portion of it complements the Great River Park vision of access. The vision — a scenic green parkway for drivers and trail users around the entire city — requires a good deal of design and construction work. In its 2011 proposal to the Capital Improvement Board, Parks and Rec is including over $1 million to start this work.

Examples in the West End
Palace Rec has already gone through a relevant planning and design process, and funding for construction is slated for 2013-15. Palace now is limited by an obsolete and underresourced physical facility that does not support a wide range of programs. The new Palace Community Center, with a renewed gym, fitness and exercise facilities, flexible community rooms for classes and meetings, better access to the outdoor resources and programs for the full spectrum from youth to seniors, becomes a resource for the entire population. Changes on the land accompany those to the building — two softball fields are to be removed, and higher quality multiuse field space created, with improved turf quality on remaining fields, soil improvements and possibly irrigation. The focus for outdoor resources is on youth activities. Adult baseball and softball fields are to be located at St. Clair Park.

[IMAGE]West 7th Community Center is one of twelve partner sites that gradually assume full responsibility for the site.

The Snelling/West Seventh neighborhood is identified in the System Plan as a Park Service Gap. There is a large residential population between West Seventh and Shepard Road, from Homer to Davern. The need for additional recreation services has long been know by the residents, but because of the developed nature of the area adding a new park may be difficult. In addition, the area centered around Sibley Manor Apartments is identified as a Playground Service Gap. Opportunities to create a new park or playground through redevelopment or partnership with an existing business or property owner will be monitored over time. Meanwhile, the System Plan recommends delivering recreation services through Mobile Recreation. At present, the Parks and Rec website lists mobile climbing walls, jump castles and athletic equipment as part of the mobile recreation program.

Other West End Features of the plan include reestablishing a cross-country ski loop in Hidden Falls/Crosby Farm Regional Parks; a removable skate park for Palace Community Center; the many aspects of Grand Rounds (“A low speed scenic parkway circling the entire city, plus off-road multi-use trails.”) that traverse the community; and the major development of Victoria Park, which the Community Reporter has been reporting on an ongoing basis.

First Phase of Great River Park Planning Completed | 12.10
[IMAGE]
by Kent Petterson

The Great River Park Master Plan series of public charrettes ended November 8 with the final open meeting at the Wellstone Center. Major themes emerged from this design team led effort launched by Mayor Chris Coleman in August. It appears at this point that the bulk of the spending effort could be focused on downtown. It had appeared earlier that fiscal considerations had precluded any thought of grade-separated access to the river. Not the case when it came to the downtown charrette where grade separation, improved river access from the light rail at Union Station, significant changes to Kellogg Mall Park (between Wabasha and Robert along the bluff), and even relocating rail lines entered the discussion.

Sustained public interest aided by city planners resulted in the design team identification of significant themes that will guide their final report. It is apparent across all neighborhoods through which access to the river is available that barriers have become, over time, the biggest problem for Mississippi River users. The most significant are the steep bluff at the valley, railroad tracks, Shepard Rd, Hwy 61 in the valley and on the West Side a floodwall.

Most other issues identified fade to secondary importance except the overriding concern of almost all participants, which could be summarized by West Ender Joe Landsberger’s comment at charrette #3 to “do no harm” to the river — seventeen miles of Mississippi River shoreline in St. Paul’s portion of the Great River Park, with hundreds of acres of important natural areas from Hidden Falls Regional Park to Pig’s Eye Regional Park are affected by this master plan.

After the first charrette, which was focused on overall design principles for the project, charrette #2 was focused almost entirely on the natural areas found to the west of the High Bridge. Crosby Farm Park, Lilydale Park, Hidden Falls Regional Park and Lower Hidden Falls Park are all near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. A push poll exercise of participant preferences for specific recreational and development opportunities at these park locations guided the charrette input. Some from the West End that came to talk about plans for Victoria Park found the opportunity to talk about Victoria Park concerns somewhat limited. The resultant design team presentation still contained four soccer fields at the park, which the neighborhood generally opposes.

Shepard Road as a designated element of the Grand Rounds system became the most significant development of charrette #2. Shepard Road was dangerous to walkers and bikers as they cross to the river. In discussions with Public Works it was determined that the speed limit could be reduced to 35 or 40 mph and Shepard Road should be called a “parkway.” The speed reduction, together with better grade intersection control and traffic calming techniques would go a long way to improving access to the river in the West End.

For those of us in the West End, it remains to be seen if these measures on Shepard Road go far enough toward making our access safe. What this implies for West Seventh Street and 35E through the neighborhood also remains to be understood.

The focus of charrette #3 was on downtown and the flood plain area to the east. The design professionals leading the process continued to be challenged to assimilate the important and significant citizen input. West End resident Edie Meissner commented: “I was amazed to hear about gems of park spaces along Hwy. 61 that I have never heard of even after living in St. Paul since 1971. I was intrigued with the concept of connecting these pieces to create St. Paul’s Grand Rounds that will extend both along the river and connect to Lake Phalen and Como Park.”
Joe Landsberger added, “After the third charrette, which dealt with the river east of the High Bridge to Hwy. 61, I had mixed thoughts. First, why was it so necessary to bring in outside ‘vendors’ at great expense rather than our own park personnel and city administrators to facilitate the process? However, ideas creating connections along the river, including parks, trails and river bank amenities were exciting and in some cases original. On the other hand, they all seemed ambitious in terms of the millions of dollars required, which given the recent election are beyond the pale. But then I hope out of the three charrettes we might find targeted small projects that our local St. Paul neighborhoods might embrace and develop, such as the North High Bridge Park’s gardens and sculptures. These were developed out of grants rather than the city park’s budget. One modest project could be removing the chain link fence and barbed wire which traverse the bluff in public areas, which occur nowhere else in the City of St. Paul or along the river bluffs.”

This plan is not small and will have significant impact in the West End and across the city. Stay tuned, as the planning is far from over and comment continues to be solicited at greatriverpark.org. A preliminary report from the design team is due in February followed by public comment leading to the Great River Park Master Plan final report next summer.

Recollections of a Caring, Witty and Talented Neighbor | 12.10[IMAGE]

by Jerry Rothstein
 

Talking with Margaret Hohn about her lifetime of baking carries with it an important benefit — freshly baked cookies of several kinds and a good cup of tea. “I don’t drink coffee,” she says, “so those that want it have to bring it along.” I had the best chocolate chip cookie (well, okay, more than one) and a wonderful lime-flavored shortbread with a thin glaze — applied with a child’s paintbrush for total evenness.

Margaret has spent her entire life in the West Seventh neighborhood. Born in 1915 when her family lived on James Street, she has been in her present home on Juno for 58 years. Her husband Adam worked for the Northern Pacific from the age of sixteen for a total of forty-six years. For him, Margaret made “brandy rocks,” which helped him keep warm internally through the winter on the job.

Schooled at St. Francis first and then St. James, Margaret remembers a bit of conflict between the two school groups, but in general her memories of the neighborhood are happy ones: The time that the man at Bay and James built a toboggan slide three houses long, and her father chipped in by building a warming house; the many gardens the grandmothers had in their back yards and their pause to kneel for the Angelus, signaled by church bells, at noon. For the Friday night “depression poker” games (in hard times, a one dollar limit), she made fudge.
She first learned to bake at fourteen and over the years her family always had dessert at the end of a big meal. Margaret’s repertoire is not just one specialty cookie, but a vast file of many types, from melting moments to delicate cutouts, decorated for the season or event they were made for. The recipes have been from many sources, but Margaret has refined them all to her exacting standards. Over the years, there have always been cookies made not only for family, but friends, neighbors, the nuns at school, the priest and the staff at the West 7th Community Center, where she and Adam were volunteers and participants in many programs.

[IMAGE]Holiday baking is apparently effortless, as her growing family of five children, fifteen grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren can absorb greater and greater numbers. She makes more than 1200 cookies and candies every Christmas season, and has specialties for Valentines Day, Easter, Halloween and grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s birthdays. She is such a perfectionist on how they look, that she looks at pictures of fish, butterflies and animals to get the most realistic look. Sometimes they are just too cute, like the coconut she puts on the lambs for Easter to resemble wool. She has made melt-in-your-mouth mints molded in a rose for all the grandchildren’s high school graduations, taking special care in matching the school colors.

As Margaret approaches her 96th birthday in January, she says with a smile, “I have six docs keeping me ticking.” She is still trying new recipes, still quilting, still a great example of West End spirit.

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