The Blaine City Council July 10 took an important step in making a 500-acre natural preserve more accessible to the public, but it is going to likely take the rest of this decade before the full vision of the recently approved master plan is realized.
“It’s so exciting,” Councilmember Kathy Kolb said with a big smile before the council unanimously approved the concept design for what will officially be called The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. That name that was recently suggested by the Natural Resources Conservation Board.
The city started acquiring portions of the property in the late 1990s, but most of it was acquired after Blaine voters approved a $3.5 million referendum in 2000, according to Jim Hafner, who holds the title of stormwater manager for the city of Blaine and has been the lead staff person in charge of maintaining this open space.
Although the 70-acre Kane Meadows Park was also acquired (thanks to the Blaine voters approval at the turn of the 21st century) the acquisition of the 500-acre property next to The Lakes development has been the centerpiece of this open space program.
Portions of this property are already accessible to the public. The Lakes residents have different access points into the park, but the easiest areas to get into the open space today are from East Lake Park. That location is just east of the popular Lakeside Commons Park. Another access point is through North Oaks West Park on the southwest end of the property.
Jeff Lindhorst and his family moved to The Lakes neighborhood in January. This past Tuesday morning, July 29, he took his three sons Jack, 6, Liam, 3, and Abel, 1, on a walk on a paved trail through the heavily forested portion of The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary open space near East Lake Park.
“I think it’s a beautiful walk. I think it’s much better than Springbrook,” Lindhorst said when told of the city’s goal to build a nature center similar to what Springbrook Nature Center has with educational displays, programming and a place to rent equipment and the ability to host school tours.
Lindhorst thinks The Lakes neighborhood is better than the neighborhoods around Springbrook and he does not like hearing the occasional train when walking on a Springbrook trail because it takes away from the ambience of being in nature. His son Jack loves hearing the trains.
It will take some time for Blaine to have its own version of the Springbrook Nature Center at this open space property.
The implementation of this plan could be affected by the wishes of future councils and what funds are available. The city paid Stanec Consulting, Inc. $22,279 to come up with this concept design but have not approved any other large contracts.
Councilmember Dick Swanson would also like to see a shorter half-mile trail loop so that people who cannot go as far have a viable option.
Councilmember Russ Herbst said, “I want to make sure we have open water out there.”
Hafner said they cannot go deeper than 6.5 feet in the ground. Otherwise, it becomes a pond and not a wetland and the amount of money the city receives for wetland credits would be impacted. This would not be a pond stocked with fish, he said.
“This is a beginning point, a foundation to build from,” Hafner said of the concept design for The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.
The first phase will include the start of wetland restoration on the north side of the property, a new parking lot off Lexington Avenue, south of 125th Avenue, and a new trail and boardwalk to get people across a wet area of the park and a wildlife viewing platform. That first phase will not happen until next year. The 2015 work, including contingency and engineering costs, is estimated to cost roughly $675,000.
This first phase could include constructing a trail further into the wetland area to a wooded area over a mile into the interior of the property, according to Hafner.
The long-range vision is that The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary improvements will be split over six phases between 2015 and 2020 with total costs in the ballpark of $2.9 million. The city’s open space after all the site purchases and some site improvements to date now has $846,374.
A portion of park dedication fees that developers pay does get put into this account, and Hafner estimates this fund will climb above $1 million when factoring in these new funds over the next seven years.
The wetland restoration work the city is planning to do from 2015 through 2020 will enable the city to sell wetland credits and accumulate enough funds for future projects, according to Hafner.
Councilmember Mike Bourke wondered what type of ongoing operational costs there could be. Hafner said once the native species are established on the property, less maintenance would be needed.
As far as operating a nature center, there are no cost projections at this time because it depends on what level of service the city wants to provide. Mayor Tom Ryan has said there could be opportunities for corporate sponsorships. Swanson wants to see a spreadsheet of operating costs for the Springbrook Nature Center to have a real life example to evaluate.
“I want to make sure this won’t be taxing for our residents. I don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner,” Bourke said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]