Editor's Note: This guest commentary is written by Grit Youngquist and Jon Kerr, organizers with the Friends of Lilydale Park.
As you may know, for several years Friends of has been involved in good faith efforts to work with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation to plan and implement appropriate improvements in one of the City's most unique areas.
We have tried to represent our 13 years of interactions with literally thousands of Lilydale Park users, during which 3 main priorities have consistently been identified:
- Protect and interpret the unique natural and historical elements and character of the park;
- Appropriately (in keeping with #1) improve trail and water access opportunities; and
- Add limited public amenities that have a small eco footprint and impact on the park experience, therefore: small scale, well-designed and environmentally sensitive: restrooms, small gathering areas for environmental education / interpretation (that include fire circles), and a dog park.
Sadly, we have to report seeing very little of those public interests represented in a Lilydale plan "final" design presented by staff and consultants to us for the first time Feb. 6. Instead, we see a project driven by staff insistence on a major road redesign and parking lots they maintain are necessary first steps—with all other Lilydale Regional Park Master Plan elements put off into the currently unfunded future. Parks staff plan to begin construction on their priorities by early summer.
This comes even as Parks staff finally confirmed our long-suspected fears of an approximately $700,000 budget gap that should seemingly force even more focus on public priorities. Yet, staff reaction has been to put off funding items such as restrooms, small scale public shelters, many trail and water access improvements and other elements of the Master Plan which the public had welcomed. In addition, the Feb. 6 final plan drawings allowed no vehicular access to Pickerel Lake, thus eliminating or greatly diminishing, current patterns of use enjoyed by many people with non-motorized boats—including easy access for ice fishing.
Over the past several years we have tried in multiple ways to raise all these concerns with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation staff, leadership and their consultants. Especially given the new budget shortfall, we have asked if it wouldn't be prudent to implement the road redesign in stages. We specifically suggested a way initial road work could be done to address most needed road improvements (east entrance into the park up to the narrow railroad underpass), while allowing funding for at least some of the other desired park improvements. Staff and consultants seemed reluctant to even consider such options, though they admitted these ideas would not be impossible.
We continue to believe that there must be better options that fit with both the new budget situation and the long-term Lilydale Regional Park Master Plan goals. We would be happy to talk with or provide more information to anyone interested: firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-227-2264.
We urge anyone concerned about the situation to contact Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Director, Mike Hahm: 651-266-6400 or email@example.com ; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: 651-266-8510 or firstname.lastname@example.org ; and for Saint Paulites, your City Council member: 651-266-8560 (or get phone #s and e-mail addresses: http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=553).
If you don't live in Saint Paul but love Lilydale Park, your voice is important. While this is a City of Saint Paul plan (Saint Paul Parks & Recreation manages the park), Lilydale is a regional park and the plan in question will utilize Met Council funds paid for by all surrounding cities and citizens. Please ask staff and elected officials to look seriously at alternatives before locking into an approach that changes the park without clearly addressing top public priorities.
Everyone wants to have a process and ultimately a Lilydale Park we can be proud of. We believe democracy and good planning is not always something that can be rushed and certainly not decided without full public input. We urge all parties to reconsider and look closely at all options before jumping into a decision that could set the tone for how we all ultimately view and experience Lilydale Park.
Tuesday will be Valentine's Day. Friends, it's time to show our love for Lilydale Park, give it voice and wear it on our sleeves.
Grit Youngquist & Jon Kerr
On behalf of the Friends of Lilydale Park