Consultants to present concept for Willmar’s regional parks

WILLMAR -- Consultants assisting the city of Willmar in developing a master parks plan will present concepts Thursday morning for establishing regional park complexes at Robbins Island and Swansson Field.

WILLMAR - Consultants assisting the city of Willmar in developing a master parks plan will present concepts Thursday morning for establishing regional park complexes at Robbins Island and Swansson Field.
SRF Consulting Group of Minneapolis will present the concepts during a two-hour workshop beginning at 9 a.m. at the Willmar Fire Station, 515 Second St. S.W. The workshop will include discussion in small breakout groups.
Steve Brisendine, community education and recreation director, is expecting about 20 people to attend.
SRF will have a PowerPoint presentation on regional park features and trends, and then present an overview of regional park concepts for Robbins Island, a park off Business 71/23 in northeast Willmar, and Swansson Field, a sports complex on Willmar Avenue on the west side of Willmar.
The workshop follows focus group interviews held this summer with park users and community members to gather information for the master plan.
A second workshop on neighborhood parks will be 9-11 a.m. Sept. 18 at the fire station.
The draft will be presented during an open house 5-7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the fire station.
SRF interviewed focus groups July 29 and came up with a five-page list of discussion topics. The consultants met with members of Vision 2040; Latino/Somali cultures; Community Education and Recreation Joint Powers Board; leaders of youth athletic associations (Baseball Boosters, tennis, and hockey and skating); dog park enthusiasts; and residents over 55 years of age.
Brisendine said he’s excited about the planning process. He said SRF is a skilled group of people.
“We know we’ve got some good feedback already with them coming out on July 29 and getting input,’’ he said. “I think the questions they’re asking and the information they’re presenting is bringing out the input we were hoping to get from the public.’’
A meeting is also planned with Public Works Department Superintendent Scott Ledeboer and some of his staff to give the consultants a better understanding on the inner workings of the parks.

They will also discuss what staff think are some of the struggles with park amenities and keeping up-to-date on all park structures.
The groundwork outlining goals for the city’s parks was laid this past April in a report written by the Mid-Minnesota Regional Development Commission of Willmar and presented to the City Council.
The report said the city has a long history of supporting the parks but lacks a comprehensive approach to planning and development. The report called for a park system with facilities that are safe, sustainable and accessible. It urged the exploration of new ideas, especially in areas with an identified need, and innovative approaches to funding.
While the report called for a continued role for the city’s many smaller neighborhood parks, it recommended targeting the two larger regional parks for the majority of future new development, especially for amenities that are considered significant.
Doing so would create “a much more compelling narrative” for using the parks as well as for marketing the park system,’’ the report said.
“We think that If we had designation of regional parks,’’ explained Brisendine, “then it’s considered to be more than just amenities for the city of Willmar. Our thoughts on a regional park is that we’ve got many people that come into town daily to work in Willmar.’’
He said many of them take advantage of the parks by going there for lunch or disc golf or other reasons.
“All those things are enjoyed by more than just the city of Willmar residents and we think by naming them as regional parks, it aligns ourselves to get some potential funding … grants that are available to communities for park development. I think that’s one of the biggest things,’’ Brisendine said.
The city now has 37 parks and 32 playground structures. Brisendine said park investment has been “pretty stagnant’’ the last 10 years because development of the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, Taunton Stadium and soccer fields have “used up our energy’’ to no one’s fault and left the neighborhood parks a little under-resourced.
“So I think that’s some of the things that we’ll look at,’’ Brisendine said.
“If that’s going to be potentially a trend, which I anticipate that it might be because the dollars are finite, how can we create the destination places, thus the regional park systems, that have the amenities that the community will want and then maybe make some of our smaller parks more the green space with a little ball field or playground set or whatever it is for a family or two to go to versus a hundred people going to enjoy.’’


SRF No. 0148539

Location:Community Education and Recreation Office, Willmar, MinnesotaClient:City of WillmarDate:July 29, 2014Subject:Parks and Recreation Master Plan Focus Group InterviewsAttendees:Stewart Crosby, SRF; Steve Brisendine, Community Education and Recreation; Brad Bonk, Willmar Community Education and RecreationPurpose of Meetings: The purpose of these meetings was to gather information for the parks and recreation master plan project from select groups of park users and community members.


Summary of Meetings:Vision 2040 Members The group’s primary discussion topic was Robbins Island Park.

  • There is interest in creating more natural areas at Robbins Island Park including a bio-retention area that can serve as an education tool for the public and for students.
  • There is a desire to beautify the entry area to Robbins Island Park. Include viewpoints on the road/trail through the park.
  • Of all the shelters in the park, only one is used regularly; two are used often. There is a desire to upgrade these facilities to attract more users. Include electricity in the shelters.
  • Locate shelters near amenities like the playground and the beach so groups and parents can be close to activities when using the shelters.
  • An open shelter is needed for picnics.
  • A destination playground that might include a tree house or an observation tower would be exciting. The playground could have a natural theme. Use the topography for the playground.
  • Create a garden labyrinth as part of the playground. The MN Arboretum created a labyrinth in their gardens.
  • Create a floating boardwalk in Thompson Park or in another location. Create trails to Thompson Park.
  • Create a winter recreation area that includes skating and sledding.
  • One of the shelters should be year-round to become a warming hut for winter use including plumbing, restrooms, concessions and rental equipment. Two examples that were mentioned were Edina’s Centennial Lakes and St Louis Park’s new shelters that serve as winter warming houses.
  • Trails are needed on the north side of the park.
  • An outdoor amphitheater to allow for concerts is an interest. The location needs to include good parking, circulation, be close to other amenities.
  • Vehicle circulation is a major concern especially if large crowds of up to 1,000 people are attending a concert.
  • Music events at the amphitheater could attract large crowds on a weekly timeframe.
  • Access into and out of the park is concern. There is only one entrance that can get very slow with large numbers of vehicles.
  • Traffic speed on Highway 71 is an issue and will have to be addressed to make events work at the park. Can a pedestrian crossing or HAWK signal be located at the park?
  • Install a grade-separated crossing over the highway and into the park.
  • Geocaching is becoming popular and is already happening in the park.
  • Open green space is needed in the park for pick up soccer games and for general recreation.
  • Bring some “life” to the roadway in the park.
  • The group is open to ideas for locating elements in the park such as a playground, an amphitheater, etc.
  • Consider circulation and off-site parking for large events. There could be a shuttle to get more people to events.
  • Also consider pedestrian and bicycle access for events.
  • The parking lots are an issue. These were constructed on fill and there is ponding and flooding with large rains.
  • Include a pedestrian or vehicle bridge on the north side of the park.
  • Install a recreation course for health and wellness.
  • Would Robbins Island be a good location for a splash pad?
  • The public perception of the beach is still negative.
  • There are certain groups of people who prefer to swim in a lake at a beach rather than go to a pool.
  • The existing restrooms are summer only. Upgrade facilities for year-round use.
  • There are up to 200 soccer players that use the two fields east of the aquatic center in the summer.
  • There are six 2-hour time slots for games, for a total of 12 games daily.
  • The stands are always full with spectators.
  • There are no trees/shade in the area around the fields.
  • The concessions for the aquatic center is not accessible at the soccer fields. This could be moved to the east side for access outside the aquatic center for soccer use as well.
  • Restrooms are not available for the soccer area. Porta-potties are brought in on a concrete pad on the east side of the parking lot.
  • Soccer players and families park at Roosevelt Elementary School and the driveway north of the school and east of the field.
  • A playground located closer to the fields would be nice so kids could play while parents are on the field. The existing playground is too far away for safe use.
  • Sunday is soccer day.
  • Youth soccer could be held at the new park space southwest of Westwind Park. Future development at this park could be used to create more fields and a practice facility for soccer.
  • The fields east of the aquatic center are heavily used for games and are not capable of being used for practices as well. Another location is needed for practice.
  • A bike trail connection at Roosevelt Elementary school would provide additional access.
  • Lafayette School (Ella Ave NW and 11th St NW) has been re-purposed as the community mosque. A playground is needed near the mosque to give kids a place to play during prayers.
  • Somali groups use the tennis courts for 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 soccer. Even though the courts are hard-surface, they can be used more in wet times and in spring. The fence keeps balls contained.
  • One idea is to replace the playground with a small soccer field for practice and kids play.
  • The ballfield diamonds are not used at Southfield Park.
  • The Somali community is centered on the north side of town. There is a desire to have a separate soccer practice facility. Could this be at Roosevelt School?
  • Robbins Island Park is used a lot by the Latino community. Uses include sports on the fields and soccer. They gravitate toward the fields that have shade adjacent to them.
  • The Ramblewood Park trail is very good but it needs benches.
  • Standards are needed for park amenities like benches and picnic tables.
  • Downtown park space is needed including green space so people can relax and have a location to sit and be outside for lunch.
  • The Waite Park splash pad was mentioned as an example.
  • Loop trails inside and around parks for bicycles and for walking are needed.
  • More restrooms are needed in parks.
  • Generally, the play equipment in parks is outdated.
  • The idea was mentioned that a “presence” is needed in the parks. Do this by creating features such as a splash pad at Rice Park and lighting at parks for longer use times.
  • Lincoln Park is heavily used but is outdated.
  • What can be done on the east side for parks?
  • Create different experiences at different parks to give variety to uses.
  • Garfield Park has winter use but needs a new shelter.
  • An indoor playground would be nice for families to use in the winter and when it is raining.
  • ADA needs to be a consideration.
  • Bring back the Adopt-A-Park program.
  • Whiffle Ball is popular and would be good at a park location.
  • Connect the parks with trails and sidewalks.

Latino/Somali CulturesWCER Joint Powers BoardYouth Association Leaders Baseball Boosters (Dave)

  • The city is lacking in bigger fields.
  • The Stingers use of Baker Field takes one field away from other uses which has impacted programs.
  • Winter facilities are needed for baseball.
  • The Boosters would like to be able to get revenue when they use Baker Field. Now all revenue from concessions goes to the Stingers.
  • The idea has been raised before about adding another field over by Baker Field.
  • The city is short on 90’ fields.
  • The layout of Swansson Field is not ideal. Central concessions is needed and a playground would be very nice for families.
  • Parking at Swansson Field is a major issue. There is not enough parking when leagues are playing, especially when there is a Stinger game as well.
  • It would be ideal to have a “pinwheel” facility for softball. There is no room at Swansson Field for such a facility.
  • Dave and the Boosters provided a 3-year improvement plan to the committee.

Tennis (Jim)

  • The High School has 5 courts; the Middle School has 4 courts that are okay but need work.
  • The Rice Park court is not playable.
  • The Miller Park court is a liability and is in such poor condition it cannot be used for tennis.
  • The Sperry Park court is in bad condition and cannot be used for tennis.
  • Jim’s dream is to fix up two courts for consistent tennis use. Just two courts would be very useful.
  • Jim’s preference would be to have two courts in two locations for use.
  • Generally repairing or repaving the bit surface is needed and fencing needs repair or replacement at some facilities.
  • The High School gym has four courts for winter use.

Hockey/Skating (Matt)

  • There are three outdoor skating facilities at Lincoln, Hilltop and Garfield.
  • These three facilities need to be maintained as much as possible because they do get a lot of use.
  • There are two hockey rinks at both Lincoln and Garfield.
  • There are lights and boards at all three facilities but the lighting is old and could be upgraded.
  • The issue of a warming house at Garfield Park was raised. Currently the basement is used as a warming area and this poses safety concerns for staff who are in an isolated area and for users who must walk down stairs to access the space.
  • Regarding the idea of a winter recreation area at Robbins Island, Matt is concerned that it would detract or take away from the three community skating areas. The community skating areas are vitally important because a lot of families and kids use these facilities because they are convenient and close to home. Robbins Island Park is not close to any neighborhoods. If the neighborhood skating can be maintained in addition to Robbins Island skating, that would be okay.
  • Steve Gardner presented information for the group and provided a handout with information gathered/researched on dog park elements, costs, etc.
  • The group came together in April as a grass-roots team to work on developing a dog park in Willmar.
  • There are no official dog parks in the City.
  • The group narrowed down the sites to Lion’s Park. This is a site that was previously identified by Parks staff.
  • The group would like water, electricity for lighting and a shelter with table as elements of the park. They have design ideas in mind for the layout of the park including exercise areas, agility course and separate areas for small and large dogs.
  • West Central Industries is the company adjacent to Lion’s Park.
  • Marie Engel, owner of Fancy Coats, has a fenced-in area that the public can pay to use as a dog park.
  • The fence height needed for a dog park is 5 feet tall.
  • Their concept is to keep Lion’s Park in the front and the dog park, surrounded by fence, at the back of the park.
  • The phasing the group would prefer includes:
    • Step 1: Install fence and utilities (electricity and water)
    • Step 2: Add amenities
    • Step 3: Install an agility course
    • As an aside question, it was asked where an archery range will be developed and when?

Dog Park EnthusiastsResidents Over 55 Years of Age This group consisted of various seniors and almost-seniors that came to participate in the discussion or stayed on from previous discussions. Main points of the discussion included:

  • Ray and Dick Heusing have interest in more tennis opportunities for the community.
  • Mary Lou Arne has concerns about views of the lake and the height of vegetation around lake shores.
  • Susan Thorson said there is no place to sit on trails or parks. More benches and sitting places are needed.
  • Bob Scorr said shelters used to be programmed for activities so kids could play in the summer. This is not available anymore and he wondered why.
  • Claudia Cedarstrom said she would like a place for seniors to meet. A location other than a park, like a community center.
  • Margot Nimitz has a concern about safety on walking trails in her neighborhood. She also suggested installing dog bag dispensers on trails.
  • A general concern that was raised is whether the City can continue to maintain 37 parks.
  • A concern was raised about gang problems on the north side. This was discussed and others felt it was not so much of an issue.
  • A comment was made about a need for a community center with outdoor spaces for public use.
  • A request was made for a senior program that includes outdoor volleyball.


H:\Projects\8539\_Correspondence\Meetings\Meeting Records\8539 Willmar park and rec plan record of focus group interviews_140729.docx

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