Time is running out to weigh in on Saint Paul’s newest Parks and Recreation system plan. The plan, which is typically updated every 10 years, is used to outline priorities and guide improvements, programming and spending decisions for the city’s parks, athletic fields, recreation centers and trails.

The new plan will replace the one that was approved by the Saint Paul City Council in 2010. Parks and Recreation director Andy Rodriguez said the public’s input is still being sought, and an online survey closes September 30. It can be found at
tinyurl.com/yz95w7p7.

The Saint Paul Parks and Recreation system includes 182 parks, 26 recreation centers, about 120 miles of trails, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory and regional park partnerships, including Hidden Falls, Crosby and Harriet Island. Its 2023 proposed budget is $76.5 million.

City Council members are interested in seeing the survey results and the draft plan itself. “The way people interact with parks is constantly changing,” said council president Amy Brendmoen.

Rodriguez said the goal is to have a draft plan ready to present by the first quarter of 2023. Saint Paul is working with Visible City to collect data on demographics, facilities use and program participation to be used in updating the plan. 

Parks and recreation programs have rebounded since the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost 17,000 participants as of last month. The city this year eliminated fees for many youth programs, and signups as of mid-September were peaking at 900 for basketball alone. Rodriguez called the elimination of fees “transformational.”

How the city’s recreational facilities are used could change as a result of the updated plan, Rodriguez said. While the demand for baseball and softball fields in parts of Saint Paul is strong, fields could possibly be repurposed in some neighborhoods. He said he and his staff are hearing demands for more pickleball courts and skate parks.

 

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While the demand for baseball and softball fields in parts of Saint Paul is strong, fields could possibly be repurposed in some neighborhoods. Rodriguez said he and his staff are hearing demands for more pickleball courts and skate parks.

One focus in 2010 was to increase the use of public school facilities for recreation programs, which City Council members said they would like to see continue. The 2010 plan also focused on developing a parks and recreation system that was oriented more toward activities than facilities. It came not too many years after the city had closed several smaller recreation centers, tearing down some and renting out others to nonprofit partners.

That plan recast recreation centers as “community centers” that are about more than recreation. That included expanded and improved facilities at Palace Recreation Center, the new Frogtown Community Center and the Arlington Hills recreation center-library complex.

Victoria Park is just now getting a multiuse, artificial turf field as called for in the plan. Midway Peace Park was established as part of a proposal to add green space on and near the light-rail Green Line. Master planning for the Merriam Park Recreation Center and more downtown parks failed to materialize.

The 2010 plan also called for establishing off-leash dog parks. High Bridge, Lilydale, Lowertown and Uŋčí Makhá Park locations have opened since then, bringing the number of city dog parks to six.

Yet another change made as a result of the plan was to contract out the operation of the Como and Phalen golf courses. However, a proposal to expand and renovate the clubhouse at Highland National Golf Course never happened.

The Grand Round system of pedestrian and bicycle trails was expanded as called for in the 2010 plan. The plan also called for a series of “signature trail loops at five locations, including Hidden Falls/Crosby Farm/Mississippi River Boulevard and downtown. A master plan for Crosby and Hidden Falls was completed, and downtown’s Capital City Bikeway continues to take shape.

— Jane McClure

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