by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona’s grand plan for the future of Winona parks is headed to the City Council for final approval after the Planning Commission supported it unanimously on Monday. A $3.2-million project to connect Sugar Loaf, Garvin Heights, and Holzinger trails with a set of expanded hiking and mountain biking trails is objective number one under the proposed plan. Throughout, the proposed Comprehensive Parks, Open Space, and Recreation System Plan makes outdoor recreation a top priority for the city.
“Winona’s gem is that we have a lot of resources within this little island. You have hiking, biking, paddling, and [rock] climbing,” Planning Commission member Peter Shortridge said. Shortridge praised the plan’s proposals for expanding those recreation opportunities and argued that the plan ought to place greater emphasis on the potential economic benefit Winona might reap by capitalizing on the outdoors — making Winona a place people want to visit and where employees want to stay. “Mayo has Destination Medical Center. Well, we should be destination recreation,” Shortridge stated. To make that happen, he added, “The council should be brave in carving out some resources.”
Planning Commission member Todd Paddock joined Shortridge praising the proposed Bluff Traverse trail system that would link Sugar Loaf to Holzinger trails. The proposed trail system would substantially expand the length of contiguous trails in Winona, enabling people to spend a whole day hiking. “I support the focus on the Bluff Traverse,” Paddock stated. “I think that’s one of our problems here. You want to go for a long walk here? [There are] not that many places.”
Paddock also appreciated the plan’s chapter on natural resource stewardship, including a map identifying areas with unique ecosystems and high biodiversity within the city’s parkland. It is important for the city to balance recreation and conservation, Paddock said — to balance people’s desire to enjoy the bluffs and the river bottoms with the city’s responsibility for conserving those environments. Take Lake Winona for example, Paddock said. Having tall, native vegetation growing along the shoreline helps improve water quality, reduce shoreline erosion, and discourage geese. “But as someone who wants to fish, I know it’s nice to be able to walk up and fish and not snag your line every time you want to cast. So it’s a balance.”
Paddock asked city staff to include stronger language on stewardship in the plan’s executive summary and asked for city staff to include a specific reference to the ice climbing park. Paddock referenced Winona Bird Club President Richie Swanson’s argument that the city should not allow an ice climbing park on the bluff south of Vila Street because the unnatural ice formations would bury rare and sensitive cliff habitat. “You have to find a balance because it is fun to climb an ice wall and a bluff seems like a natural place to do it, but it turns out those are fragile places,” Paddock stated. Winona Park and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl said that the ice climbing park will be relocated to a quarried cliff face just west of Sugar Loaf, and Paddock said that seemed like a more appropriate spot. “That seems like probably a good move for them,” Planning Commission member Brian Buelow echoed.
Ubl did not indicate that his department would make the changes Shortridge and Paddock requested. The two Planning Commission members did not press the issue.
This plan is good, but the city should learn from Minneapolis’ mistakes and not go overboard on bike lanes, Planning Commission member LaVerne Olson argued. The proposed parks plan sets goals for creating pedestrian and bicycle routes that would connect the city’s major parks to one another and to neighborhoods, and it calls for the city to follow through on its Complete Streets Policy, which entails the creation of numerous new bike lanes and pedestrian improvements. “Minneapolis has run into the problem where they have designated bike lanes, barricaded them off, you’ve got very little traffic on the bike lane, and you’ve got bumper-to-bumper traffic on the street,” Olson stated.
Actually, it would be great to follow Minneapolis’ lead, Shortridge argued. The Twin Cities regularly score high on rankings of the most livable U.S. cities because of their great bicycle network and high concentration of parks, he stated.
The proposed parks plan includes detailed recommendations for every park in Winona, from Sinclair Park to Prairie Island. The full plan is available at bit.ly/2DRsxDE or by visiting www.cityofwinona.com/city-services/parks-recreation. City staff plan on asking the City Council to take a final vote on the proposed plan on December 17.