Cloquet City Council: Veterans shoot down memorial park ideaIf anyone thought they were going to change minds at Tuesday’s City Council work session, they were wrong.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
If anyone thought they were going to change minds at Tuesday’s City Council work session, they were wrong.
Veterans and their supporters fired questions about the future of Veterans Park at city staff and their consultant for more than an hour in a meeting that seemed to ease feelings of mistrust but did little to change opposition to a proposal to move the park.
At issue was a concept put forth by the task force -- charged with creating the city’s first long-term comprehensive parks plan -- to move the current Veterans Memorial to Voyageurs Park on the east end of Dunlap Island. The idea was to create a memorial park dedicated to that function, rather than the multi-use park where the Veterans plaza currently sits.
Although a few veterans had previously expressed support for the relocation idea after attending task force meetings, it seemed the group of nearly 20 people in attendance Tuesday were united in their opposition to any change in location. Arguments focused on practical matters -- flooding issues, cost, whether the ground would support the tank, etc. -- as well as emotional ties.
“[Veterans Park] is kind of sacred to me,” Jim Nelson said. “It was built by veterans for veterans and their families.”
Currently the city park is home to the memorial plaza -- made up of bricks bearing veterans’ names and flags -- as well as a shelter house, a parking lot, artillery and tank, a pond and lots of green space.
City Administrator Brian Fritsinger pointed out that it is the only park left in Cloquet for large community events such as the July 4th and Labor Day festivities.
However, aside from those large celebrations, the park is often empty except for flocks of Canada geese and people walking their dogs. With a prime location just off Highway 33, task force members have been working to come up with ideas that would see more active and frequent uses for the park.
The meeting Tuesday came about after publicity about the task force ideas sparked significant opposition to the concept.
Consultant Lydia Major explained in her initial presentation that the idea of moving the park was really to “create a great space for a veterans memorial,” the LHB, Inc. landscape architect said.
“If there’s so much money floating around [to pay for relocating the Veterans memorial plaza], you should really consider putting more in there to draw people to Veterans Park,” said Tom Willette of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
City Councilor Dave Manderfeld expressed surprise that the veterans groups would not want to change to a more dedicated and scenic location on the river, noting that Voyageurs Park has tremendous potential and could draw people to learn more about what the veterans did for their country.
“You can make [Voyageurs Park] beautiful, but leave the vets there,” said Chester Lamb of the DAV and American Legion.
Nelson compared the two parks after recent heavy rains, pointing out there was standing water in Voyageurs for several days.
“I think it needs a lot of things done to it before it’s up to [the kind of park] Dave is talking about,” Nelson said.
The three members of the task force in attendance may have been the only audience members in favor of creating a different park for the veterans memorial.
Tom Urbanski was the most vocal during the meeting. As a Cloquet native and the son of a World War II veteran, he pointed out that the Voyageurs Park area has always been somewhat “undefined.”
“That’s all we know it as: undefined,” he said, citing Duluth’s Lakewalk as well as smaller towns that have developed park systems along lakes or rivers. “Other than Pine Valley, this probably is the gem space in Cloquet. It’s very visible. It’s something we need to take great care with developing. When the idea of putting a memorial park there came up, it was the first really good idea for that space I’d heard.
“You only have one crack at getting in there. No matter what, it’s going to get built up to be a great space; we’re going to do something special in there.”
City Administrator Brian Fritsinger talked about the 1999 plan for the park developed by veterans groups and the city. Although part of the plan is complete, he said the plan will likely never happen as originally drawn up.
“The problem is, in our current world, how would we ever maintain those plantings and flowers?” he said, referring to the heavily landscaped design.
Velda Beck was a big part of the 1999 plan and had numerous questions for Fritsinger and Lydia Major, one of two consultants working with the task force and the city to develop a long-range parks plan.
Beck expressed concern about numerous matters, including the lack of signage to both Veterans and Voyageurs parks, and possible insufficient ground support for the 60-ton tank.
Beck left the meeting feeling pretty good.
“I think we got the idea across that we’re opposed to [moving the park],” she said.
Urbanski and fellow task force member Scott Blatchford, on the other hand, finished the meeting feeling discouraged.
“These are ideas that are trying to make the city better,” he said. “We’re not trying to shove [Veterans Park] into a hole. I don’t think people realize how nice it could be.”
When there were no more questions, the meeting closed. The veterans and their supporters left, after being assured they would be kept in the loop regarding any formal action on the parks plan. Task force members also left, along with Major, to continue their work developing a plan for all of the city’s parks.
“The good news is that the word is out,” Major said. “It’s not our goal to do this over the objections of the community. It’s very important to have community support.”
She expressed hope that the veterans who supported the idea will talk with those who oppose it.
“If the end result is that they believe it’s great where it is, that’s what we do,” she said. “Or if there’s consensus that we can create a great space on Dunlap Island, that is what we’ll do.”
No action on the parks plan was taken during Tuesday’s meeting.