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Cloquet City Council: Parks plan passes

Local teenagers enjoy an impromptu hockey game at the city rink at Pinehurst Park, sometimes called the "jewel" of Cloquet's parks system. There is sledding and ice skating there in the winter, swimming, tennis, softball and lots playing there in the summer.

It’s been a two-year process, but the Cloquet Parks and Recreation System Master Plan is finished.

Yet, it’s still a work in progress.

“It’s meant to be a 20-year planning process that’s open to new ideas over that time period,” explained Parks Commission and task force member Mark Roberts, following the Tuesday night Cloquet City Council meeting when councilors adopted the plan by unanimous vote.

Fellow task force and Board member Tom Urbanski said the plan had “lots of tremendously exciting and energizing components.”

“We have a beautiful plan put together,” said Urbanski. “But there will be plenty of opportunities for people to provide input and be involved in the future, too. There’s nothing set in stone.”

Plans for two parks — Veterans and Voyaguers — were not included because the task force and veterans groups in the community couldn’t reach consensus on proposed changes for the two parks, which lie near each other and the St. Louis River.

“A more robust discussion with user groups needs to happen [regarding these two parks],” consultant Michael Schroeder told the council and about a dozen people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. “There was mixed reception to the idea of moving Veterans to Voyaguers, so we left that out of the plan.”

In two years of task force meetings, research, surveys and community meetings, Schroeder said the 21-member Parks Master Plan Task Force came up with myriad ideas, which coalesced into four major ideas that provide the backbone of the master plan, including the following:

• An interconnected riverfront park, which would maintain individual park identities on and near the river but also connect the parks with a pedestrian/bike trail that would be visible and easily accessible from Highway 33.

• Neighborhood focal parks for each major area of Cloquet that would serve as a way to bring the neighborhood together, rather than specialized parks. These include Athletic, Pinehurst, Sunnyside and Hilltop parks.

• Community connections (between parks), using trails and city streets to make the parks and trails an integrated system that people can travel between easily.

• Elements such as signs, design features including picnic tables and other items to help make the parks an integrated system that is easily recognized and navigated by newcomers as well as longtime community members.

Schoeder quickly ran through some of the ideas in the plan for individual parks in Cloquet: Pinehurst Park — Tentative plans include adding new attractions (to be determined) to the swimming pond at Pinehurst Park, plus making a better summertime parking lot that would convert to a better ice rink for hockey in the winter. Plans also included creation of expanded parking by converting the existing road to a parkway with diagonal parking.

Athletic Park — Plans included replacing the current playground as well as creating a new restroom and picnic pavilion at the playground area. The high school baseball field would be changed to an informal play field (and a new high school baseball field would be constructed at Braun Park). A hockey rink with permanent boards and hard surface infill for non-winter sports and a new warming house were also in the plans.

Hilltop Park — Replacing the current ancient playground equipment was top of the list at Hilltop, which is now primarily used for soccer and college football practices. Plans also included construction of a new park pavilion and restroom building, upgrading existing fields, plus adding a practice field, a disc golf course and expanded parking north of the park behind the 14th Street Apartments and the gravel pits. Schroeder had previously suggested talking to FDLTCC about installing artificial turf on a field to be used for college football practice and possibly games.

Sunnyside Park — Although Sunnyside already has many of the components of a neighborhood park, plans included renovating the fields for improved play quality, permanent boards and hard infill for the hockey rink, improved warming house and restrooms and improved parking, as well as a possible paved walking path around the park.

Braun Park — In addition to constructing a new high school baseball field, plans included adding an irrigation system to the softball/baseball complex.

Pine Valley — In addition to renovating the chalet at Pine Valley, plans included improvements to the parking lot and improved access to Cloquet’s hidden gem, which also includes ski jumps and a city-run tubing hill in the winter.

Other parks plans include improved playground surface and a fence at Little Peoples Park, signage and an entrance to Long Park from Big Lake Road, adding a town square and fountain to Wentworth Park, as well as possible play equipment.

In prioritizing spending on the parks, the Task Force agreed 40 percent of whatever funds the council approves for city parks should go toward making the Riverfront Parks system a reality, 30 percent should go toward capital improvements at all the parks and 30 percent should go toward making the four chosen neighborhood parks fit that mission.

“Trails were also a big focus, and those aren’t really a part of the master plan,” Schroeder said, noting that there is an existing trails master plan and a Chamber of Commerce committee that meets regularly to try to further that plan. “But there is potential for adding trail elements at many of the parks.”

The Task Force also recommended the city consider hiring a full-time parks coordinator position rather than assigning parks responsibilities to city staff with other primary responsibilities, which is the case now with assistant city engineer Caleb Peterson.

There were few questions from the Council regarding the parks plan; however, each councilor got a packet of information that was a couple hundred pages long.

Acting Mayor and City Councilor Roger Maki thanked the task force members for their hard work in creating the plan.

“We appreciate this [plan] very much and your hours and hours of hard work,” Maki said.

Editor's note: What to know more? Read the whole Parks Master Plan by clicking here.