City clears the way for construction of Rotary Natural Playground

city council

A wooden play tower and bridge designed for the Rotary Natural Playground. (Rendering/Confluence Inc.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

The Moorhead City Council has signaled its approval of the final steps before the FM Rotary Foundation’s downtown Natural Playground can begin construction.

At Monday’s meeting, the council unanimously approved three measures that clear the way. The council approved the public-private partnership between the Moorhead Parks and Recreation Department and the nonprofit arm of the five service clubs – Moorhead Rotary and four organizations based in Fargo – to build the $1 million development in Riverfront Park along First Avenue North near downtown. They also approved a $477 thousand bridge loan to cover constructions expenses, while the clubs collect the balance of pledged funds from members and other donors, along with a conditional use permit for excavation, if necessary, in the floodway along the Red River.

Rotary Foundation spokesman David Dietz told the council that the project on which the clubs have been working since 2019 is close to its ambitious goal, with $922,560 raised in the past 18 months. That figure includes $523,175 in cash and $399,385 in pledges to be paid over the next five years. The bridge loan will cover expenses while that balance is collected. Approximately 200 F-M Rotarians have supported the campaign, he said.

Parks director Holly Heitkamp explained that the bridge loan will enable construction to begin as soon as possible, adding, “The quicker we get this built, the cheaper it’s going to be.”

The clubs have been working with landscape designer Confluence Inc. since 2019 to design the unique playground. It will be built, not with concrete, plastic and rubber as are most modern parks, but with natural building materials – logs, boulders, inclines, sandy paths, shrubbery and trees. The playground is envisioned to spur children’s own creativity through free play. The plan also includes an adjoining bike skills park, where young bicyclists can pedal up and down hilly terrain, land bridges and a variety of tricky surfaces.

Dietz and Tom Fleming of Gast Construction fielded questions from the council, including member Steve Lindaas about year-round use, Fleming assured the council that winter recreational opportunities are part of the plan. He cited one proposal, an ice-skating ribbon through the area, adding that “winter friendly” features are a key part of the proposal.

Council member Heather Nesemeier said she has supported bringing a nature park to Moorhead for years. “Thanks for picking us for this project,” she told the Rotary spokesman. “Thousands of families from Fargo-Moorhead and all around the area will enjoy this. It will be unlike anywhere else in the community.”

Dietz agreed: “It’s going to get kids outdoors playing again.”

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