Sherburne County has four county parks, some of which get very few visitors.
But that may be changing soon if the county board approves a plan to begin spending money and dedicating resources for improvements.
At the end of last year, the county board agreed to shift responsibility for park management from the planning and zoning department to public works.
At the February county board workshop, Public Works Director John Menter introduced the beginning of a plan to upgrade the park system and make them all more user-friendly.
Menter said he visited all the parks and has divided them into two categories. He said because of their natural settings, Bridgeview Park in Big Lake and Oak Savanna Park in Becker could be considered undeveloped or natural resource parks.
Island View Park in Clear Lake and Grams Park in Livonia Twp. are more conducive to development as recreational areas.
Bridgeview Park is located on the Mississippi River just off Co. Rd. 50. Menter said he spoke with Gina Hugo of Sherburne Soil & Water Conservation District about that park.
“She brought me up to speed on a number of things they have done with that park over the years,” he said. “There has been a significant effort to try to eradicate the buckthorn that has taken over a good share of that parcel.”
Menter said some of the improvements that could be done at Bridgeview Park include continuing to control buckthorn, improving the parking lot and trail map, adding interpretive signage and mileage signs.
“When people walk the trials they want to get an idea how far they’ve walked. We can provide some mileage markers along the way,” he said. “And we should consider putting in some picnic tables, particularly along the river. It’s a very scenic area.”
Menter said at Oark Savanna Park in Becker, oak wilt management is an ongoing process and will continue to be. He said parking facilities and trails can be improved and signage can be added.
“Those are what I considerer easier tasks that can be undertaken using existing staff,” he said. “We have our own sign shop, so I think we’re situated pretty well.”
Menter said the two other parks have the potential for major improvements using money that has been budgeted over the years for parks and trails. He presented the board with a list of the funds already budgeted for different parks, plus the annual allocation from the levy. That number was $1.244 million.
He said he wasn’t suggesting using the entire budget in one park, but he believed the county could make significant strides by making bigger improvements in one park first.
“We should focus our efforts and dollars on making something happen in one location rather than spreading it out across the county,” he said. “I think we can get further with this program if we focus on one park and one trail.”
He felt Grams Park would be the best candidate, partly because there was a master plan developed back in 2007 to follow, and partly because the county might be able to access grant money.
He said he reviewed many of the grants that are available for improving parks.
“A lot of the park grants are available for parks that currently have recreational amenities. The natural parks or undeveloped parks currently do not qualify to receive those grants,” he said. “To be able to qualify for future grant opportunities, we need to have some semblance of development of a park. And I think the opportunity is at Grams Park. That’s someplace we can look at moving forward.
He said at a future workshop he could bring examples of parks that have been built in other counties that haven’t required a great amount of money. Or he said the county board can take a tour.
“Sometimes it’s hard to envision what you want unless you’ve seen it before,” he said.
Commissioner Felix Schmiesing said he was in favor of the concept of using the funds in one area to give the parks program momentum. But he also wanted the county to have a countywide long-term plan.
“I would like to see us working at this as an overall county program,” he said. “What we do here shouldn’t look a lot different than what you do with roads, where we take a look at what we might want to do, we program it and then we start to look ahead.”
He said that way, people in other areas of the county would know their area park was on the list for improvements somewhere down the road.
“So if you’re not in the community that’s getting help this year, you might be able to look and see that they’ll be working on it in five years or 10 years. There has to be some balance,” he said.
“I agree with trying to develop a plan that addresses the overall county over time,” said Menter.
He said he would move ahead and come back to the board with some ideas about park improvements.”