Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Moorhead is looking for some local champions to make some of the city’s long-held dreams come true.
From new parks designed for everybody – from children of every degree of physical ability to dogs who are part of so many local families – to walking trails and a center for swimming, city leaders are pointing to the new Moorhead Community Fund as the vehicle for bringing much-desired amenities closer to reality. They’re looking for businesses, organizations and individuals with a philanthropic bent to step forward to lead and support projects on the community’s “wish list.”
“Developing the initiatives on our ‘wish list’ grew out of the city’s strategic planning process,” explains Parks Director Holly Heitkamp. “The city council asked the Park Board to identify its priorities.” The five that head the list are waiting for approval by the city council, as well as private or public funding or a combination of the two. Holly adds that her department is looking for “project champions” to head citywide efforts to make the dreams come true.
One already is being championed by the F-M Rotary Foundation. Another has garnered early support from local Kiwanis and Lions clubs. Others await word on grants, approval for use of public land, and a potential legislative appropriation to get things moving.
The newest entry among the top five is the Rotary clubs’ “natural playground.” Proposed for Riverfront Park along First Avenue North, the downtown development would replace the manufactured steel and plastic playground equipment so common today with the textures Nature intended – acres of grass crossed by sandy footpaths; logs and stumps and boulders to climb on; and other amenities to encourage active play and imagination, including a tree house and a water feature that would freeze into a skating ribbon as temperatures dip.
The Rotary Foundation has pledged full funding at an estimated cost of $600,000. Dubbed a “unique play environment,” Holly says it will tie in nicely with downtown development plans and draw families from throughout the region.
A second playground of a very different character also has the Park Board dreaming. The “inclusive playground” planned for Southside Regional Park will be located next to the Miracle Field, another Rotary project from several years ago, with ball fields for children with mobility challenges. Like the ball field, the proposed park’s adaptive features include a rubberized ground surface kind to both wheelchairs and running, tumbling youngsters. Covered play decks, swings and sensory play equipment will be built with ramps for safe and easy access. “When we get closer to making firm plans,” Holly notes, “we’ll put together user groups of children to tell us what they want.”
Boosters predict the playground will become a regional attraction, drawing busloads from far beyond Moorhead and Fargo. Moorhead’s Noon Kiwanis Club has pledged $10,000 toward the project; both Midday Central Lions and Vikingland Kiwanis have expressed interest. The total cost is estimated at $1 million.
The third park on the list is the southside dog park approved by the City Council in September. “We’ve had a dog area on the north side for about 15 years, but this will be very different,” the director says. The park will be located on the south side. Unlike the existing area, it will include amenities for both dogs and their people: not only room to run and play, but agility equipment, running water, benches and, especially, plenty of shade.
The location favored by the council is River Oaks Point, the promontory off 40th Avenue South where homes were removed after the floods of 1997 and 2009. The project awaits the approval of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which owns the land obtained through buyouts 20 years ago. Once the city gets the go-ahead, Holly predicts the project’s cost – about $200,000 – will be raised from private donors. The parks budget also has some money set aside to move the dog park forward.
The aftermath of flooding is responsible for another priority – the walking trails along the Moorhead bank of the Red River from Oakport to (eventually) 60th Avenue South. Much of the route has been completed, with the Blue Goose segment slated for next summer. (The name comes from its end points – Gooseberry Park and Bluestem.) Grant funds are being sought for the remaining Midtown Trail from Woodlawn Park to Gooseberry and, eventually, the final Harvest Trail from Bluestem to the route’s terminus at 60th Avenue South.
The trails occupy public land now owned by the city after post-flood buy-outs in 2009, 2010 and 2011. “These trails and recreation along the river are something Moorhead residents have clearly told us they want,” Holly notes. A survey of residents revealed 65% of residents consider walking paths along the river corridor one of the amenities they desire most.
The final entry on the wish list has been talked about for almost two decades, but remains a hazy goal: an aquatics center, perhaps mated with facilities for other community needs like flexible meeting space for senior citizens, child day care and a workout facility. The aquatics component might include both outdoor and indoor swimming pools for year-round, use as well as other options.
Funding to start work on the aquatics center is the fourth among the city’s bonding requests for the 2020 Minnesota Legislature; success would open the door to needs assessment and preliminary planning. “We don’t even have a location in mind,” the parks director admits, adding that the published figure of $25 million is “purely speculative” at this point. A survey is in the works for early next year to gauge citizens’ interest in and willingness to pay for the project.
What makes the city’s wish list more than a hopeful letter to Santa, she points out, is the recent establishment of the Moorhead Community Fund within the F-M Area Foundation. That enables donors to make tax-deductible contributions to the projects they’re excited about. It has already generated interest for several smaller projects, including acquisition of a police dog for the Moorhead Police Department and a donation of $25,000 for public art, administered by the Arts and Culture Commission.
Contributions can be made to the fund or directly to the city. For more information on projects and ways to support them, go to www.cityofmoorhead.com/donate.
The Wish List
Nancy Edmonds Hanson