Task force creates vision for Cloquet parksAfter nearly seven months, a vision for the Cloquet park system is emerging from multiple meetings, park tours, citizen surveys and piles of maps.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
After nearly seven months, a vision for the Cloquet park system is slowly emerging from multiple meetings, park tours, citizen surveys and piles of maps.
It doesn’t include an itemized list of improvements and changes to be made in each of the city’s 16 parks.
“What we’ve done so far is more about big ideas of how we want the system to function as a whole,” said Assistant City Engineer Caleb Peterson.
Since March, a Parks Task Force made up of 22 volunteer residents have worked with consultants from LHB Design Firm – which was hired to facilitate the planning process – and city staff to first learn what exists in Cloquet, then come up with a plan for the future.
“I think everyone [on the task force] got involved because we didn’t want to lose what we’ve already got – and because Cloquet isn’t reaching its potential,” said Scott Blatchford, a task force member. “How many people know that the land next to the river below the hospital is all city parkland? If you stand anywhere on the Highway 33 bridge and look down, it’s all city parks or city-owned land. But we don’t do enough with it.”
Creating a system of interconnected riverfront parks was one of three “big” ideas to come out of the visioning process, Peterson said. One way to accomplish this would be better signage and “wayfinding” boards or kiosks. Creating more trails is another.
“We talked about the trails below the Chamber building, the Spafford Campground, Riverview Park, Voyageurs, Veterans Park and even Wentworth,” he said, “[and] how to incorporate all those things into one Riverfront Park.”
Confused? Wondering where Wentworth and Riverview parks are?
Wentworth is a former tennis court located in Cloquet’s West End and most recently the home of the city skatepark until the city closed it down due to an increasing number of police visits to the site. Riverview is the land below the hospital adjacent to the St. Louis River that Blatchford referred to, currently home to a gravel road, some very tall weeds and trees and not much else.
Peterson said one of the group’s “pie in the sky” ideas for a Riverfront Park system is to build a pedestrian bridge (or two) over the St. Louis River somewhere east of Highway 33 to complete the loop that starts with the pedestrian bridge over the river at the west end of Spafford Park.
“I think even members of the task force would tell you that’s probably cost prohibitive,” he said.
“Better utilization, better connectivity and completing what we have, plus putting out a dream list and agreeing on what we want and what we can do,” said Task Force co-chair John Badger, rattling off what he saw as some of the unifying ideas the task force came up with. “And things like sharing agreements between the school district and/or the college, for example, for things like a turf field that Fond du Lac could use for football, the high school could use for sports and other community groups could utilize.”
Connectivity was probably the thing that all the task force members and many community surveys agreed should be first priority, both in terms of physical hiking and/or bike trails and sidewalks as well as unifying design principals such as similarly styled buildings or picnic tables.
“Trails and sidewalks were far and away the most common response for what people would like to see in terms of improvements,” Peterson said, noting that he’d received a total of 210 community surveys as of last week. “LHB says that tends to be No. 1, no matter where they go.”
Peterson said the number of survey responses has been somewhat disappointing, He’s hoping more folks will complete an online survey linked to the city’s website at www.ci.cloquet.mn.us or call the city for a mailed copy at 218-879-6758.
The third “big picture” priority in the parks plan is making sure each area of Cloquet has a neighborhood focal park, a place people can go to do a number of activities as opposed to a single-purpose park.
“Sunnyside, Athletic and Pinehurst parks already serve as multiple-use parks,” Peterson said, pointing out that the park in the Antus Addition of Cloquet would be a logical neighborhood park for residents living south of Highway 35. “Hilltop historically had tennis courts and ice skating, but it’s been repurposed [as a soccer field complex]. But there is some old playground equipment there and plenty of room to expand. The map shows about 30 acres of undeveloped, city-owned land between the 14th Street Apartments and the gravel pit.”
Paying for park improvements isn’t part of the plan yet, although the state legislature did include four parks – Veterans, Hilltop, Braun and the Pine Valley ski/hockey complex – as well as “development of pedestrian trails within the city” when it authorized the city of Cloquet to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax.
Getting money from a new sales tax would make things happen faster, Peterson said, but he stressed that the Parks Master Plan has to be a standalone document, a long-term vision for the city’s parks regardless of what happens with the sales tax.
“The sales tax is definitely a potential tool to help with some of these improvements, but it also includes infrastructure and economic development, it’s not all park funding,” he said.
Peterson said the task force will now begin talking in more specific terms about policies, priorities, individual parks and cost of improvements.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he said.
The next Task Force meeting is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. The meetings are open to the public.