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Voyageur's Park gets a redo

Cloquet’s Voyageur’s Park may look like a giant sandpit right now, but work is underway to turn the underused riverside park into a “destination” park, with a giant play structure and walking paths in the summer along with two shelters, and a skating ribbon in the winter, with the larger shelter serving as a warming house. The expected price tag for all that is $3.75 million. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 5
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This architect’s rendering shows how Voyageur’s Park will look when it’s finished. The adult workout stations didn’t make it into the final project, but could be added later. Drawing courtesy of the city of Cloquet3 / 5
According to an old Pine Knot story, Hubert Humphrey attended the dedication of the Voyageur statue in the 1970s. Currently the statue is getting some cosmetic work done in Wisconsin. He is expected to return sometime in August. Photo contributed by Les Peterson4 / 5
This drawing shows how the new “destination playground” at Voyageur’s Park will look after construction. The playground will feature two distinct play areas, one suitable for children ages 2-5 and the other for children ages 5-12. Drawing courtesy of the city of Cloquet5 / 5

Don't worry, Cloquet, the Voyageur will return. The 20-foot statue may end up standing along the river on the other side of the Highway 33 bridge, but he'll be back, with a new lease on life.

"He took a ride to Wisconsin to a fiberglass shop that's going to fix him up," said Cloquet City Engineer Caleb Peterson, noting that the city's parks and streets supervisor was very careful to make sure the 41-year-old statue (dedicated in 1976) was placed on the semi-trailer the correct way.

"Les [Peterson] didn't want his kilt to blow up and alarm anyone," the engineer said with a chuckle.

The voyageur statue isn't the only thing changing in the riverfront parks and streetscapes in Cloquet. Drivers headed across the bridge in the northbound lane of Highway 33 may have noticed all the excavation going on at the city's Voyageur's Park, located on the east side of Dunlap Island.

The work is the next phase of the city's Parks Master Plan, which was developed with input from volunteer task force members, city staff, consultants and elected officials after the city's local option sales tax was approved by voters and the state legislature. In May, Cloquet City Councilors approved spending $3.75 million of sales tax dollars on park, street, trail and highway landscape improvements on Dunlap Island, the north riverfront and along the Broadway Avenue corridor. The final bids came under the $4.13 million included in the city's 2017 budget for the riverfront improvements, although the Veterans Park project is currently close to $300,000 over budget. (It was budgeted at $990,000 and is currently sitting at $1.315 million.)

Peterson said Voyageur's Park on the east side of Dunlap Island will become a "destination park" for residents and visitors alike, and will boast the city's largest playground when it's finished, along with what may be the only public skating ribbon north of the Twin Cities during the colder months. The ribbon will be 12 feet wide and the city will also continue putting up Christmas decorations in the park for the holidays, adding to the festive vibe.

It will be a park for all seasons.

The large pit now visible near the center of the park will become a shelter/warming house structure, which can easily be opened up in warmer weather on three sides. In the summer, the skating ribbon will be a walkway. In the winter it will be covered with ice. There will be a gas fire pit outside near the skating ribbon.

Peterson said the warming house will be staffed some of the time.

To get an idea of the scale of the playground, the city spent roughly $30,000 for the new playground equipment installed at Hilltop Park last summer. The playground equipment here was bid at almost $250,000 with an additional $206,000 for installation and required surfacing.

The playground will feature two distinct play areas, one suitable for children ages 2-5 and the other for children ages 5-12.

"The Riverfront plan called for a destination playground," said Peterson. "The difference (between this and neighborhood parks) is scale. Right now the biggest park we have is at Churchill and that cost a little over $100,000 some 10 years ago."

The play surfaces will be a combination of "poured in place" rubber — which is much easier for wheelchairs to navigate — and engineered wood fiber chips. There will be no rubber mulch, of the sort that has been causing such fierce debate in Duluth, the engineer said, adding that the poured rubber is expensive so they don't want to do the entire playground with that.

A combination climbing tower and slide will be the crowning glory of the age 5-12 playground.

"It's not just a playground slide," said Assistant City Engineer John Anderson. "There's a lot there. Plus we wanted to get something that sticks up so people will see it as they drive across the bridge."

Other planned park improvements include a paved parking lot, lighting — all downward facing to limit light pollution — and electrical improvements, landscaping, a smaller picnic shelter and other park furnishings.

Along Broadway Avenue, which runs from Highway 33 past Fauley Park and the train and north to Dunlap Island, the city is planning major improvements to make it a more friendly place for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as people unfamiliar with the community who might not have been able to find their way to Dunlap Island before.

The street will be repaved, sidewalks added or improved on both sides along with bike trails. New ornamental streetlights and landscaping improvements will be continued along the street. The road should not ever be completely impassable because of construction, he said, explaining that the city has to maintain emergency vehicle access to Dunlap Island the whole time, since Broadway is the only street leading to the island. Upper Lakes Foods trucks will be redirected to Avenue B via Eighth Street instead of coming out on the gravel under the bridge by Broadway.

The railroad crossing will also be redone so it has arms that come down when a train is approaching. The street will be widened at the crossing to allow for sidewalks on both sides as well as streetscape elements such as lighting and decorative fencing. BNSF crews will do the work and the railroad's costs will be reimbursed by the city of Cloquet. ATVs are already being redirected onto the street, something the engineer said has been working well after the city put a fence around Fauley Park, which had previously been a popular shortcut for four-wheelers headed to the ATV trails along the riverside. It is legal for licensed drivers to ride ATVs on Cloquet city streets, he said, as long as they follow the rules of the road.

"We're investigating the possibility of rerouting ATVs through the island (south of Northeastern Saloon and Grille) instead of through the campground to get to the trails," he said. "It was expressed as a desire, but it currently isn't part of the plan."

Peterson admitted that it can be difficult to draw people driving through Cloquet down to the riverfront parks area. Part of the problem is getting around state laws against signs along Highway 33, he said.

"Part of the issue is that by the time you see it, you've passed the turn," Peterson said. "We wanted to put a sign in Fauley Park, but MnDOT (the Minnesota Department of Transportation) said rules don't allow it. We were lucky to keep the Cloquet sign (across the street) grandfathered in."

There will be "wayfinding" signs along Broadway and in other parks in town, he said.

"We hope that the streetscape will draw people into the West End and down to Dunlap Island," Peterson added.