by Nan Royce
HOWARD LAKE The City of Howard Lake established a park and trail plan in 2011. As 2018 appears on the horizon, residents can see some changes have been implemented since that time, but there are still many more to be completed.
According to the city’s park and trail plan, Howard Lake currently has five active parks (12 acres); four passive parks (9 acres); and the former middle school site and Yager field (10 acres) to care for and/or improve.
Each Howard Lake park has been assessed for code compliance matters and do meet or exceed minimum state standards.
The city is in process of completing a few key things at every park: specifically, new woodchips, concrete curb around each set of equipment, and signage.
Going forward, city staff will implement a schedule for maintenance tasks such as weeding, laying new sand at the beaches, frequency of mowing, and other cleanup work.
City administration and public works staff, the city council, the city’s parks and planning committee, and other interested community members continue to press forward to enhance Howard Lake with additional park improvements.
Parks are a priority for residents, but at what cost?
“As a community and organization, we’re now prepared to take a big and meaningful step forward,” Howard Lake City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller said. “This comes as a direct response from our residents who have asked for more and enhanced recreational amenities.”
Haggenmiller was quick to point out that the desired improvements can come relatively soon, but at a cost.
“In the coming months, we will be working with the council, parks and planning commission, and city staff to create realistic but meaningful expectations for our parks system,” Haggenmiller said. “This will include general maintenance procedures, but also long term improvement plans.”
Assistant City Administrator Aurora Yager shared that Howard Lake’s Capital Improvements Plan budgets $500,000 over the next decade specifically for the city’s parks and trails. That equates to a .35 percent per year levy impact.
“The community relies on us to provide them with great public services, and parks are an increasingly important part of that,” Yager said in defense of the slight increase. “Parks enhance our sense of place, our sense of community, and our overall quality of life.”
Yager, who agreed part of her job involves serving as a “general contractor” on park projects, continued, “We need to both maintain what we have and enhance our parks system to meet current and future needs. By creating and funding a capital improvement plan and developing new maintenance practices, the city aims to turn the park plans our residents helped develop into a reality.”
What is scheduled to happen? And where?
• Lions Park, at the intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 7, is designated as a neighborhood park, although its visibility and amenities draw visitors from many different areas.
Lions Park, at approximately 5.5 acres, features playground equipment, bathrooms, a beach area, a boat launch, and a pavilion.
The park’s beach area has been a cause of consternation for some visitors lately, as it has, in some people’s opinions, appeared weedy and unkempt.
Next year will see the public works staff back at full capacity, as well as the addition of several seasonal workers. The department will be robust enough to implement a maintenance schedule for the beach to keep it clean and inviting.
The recent additions of a retaining wall and a rain garden have both helped with parking lot drainage and preventing garbage, sand, and other debris from reaching the lake.
• Memorial Park, at 10th Avenue and First Street, is the city’s largest and most-used park. The park is approximately 8 acres in size and currently features a ball field, a volleyball court, playground equipment, a pavilion, and bathrooms.
Haggenmiller and Yager both indicated they see the park being used by people of all ages, and at all times of the day. Once again, however, the issue of maintenance is a concern.
City resident, Orphan’s fanatic, and city council member Mike Mitchell has been voluntarily mowing and caring for the ballpark for decades. Such volunteers are needed, and hard to find.
Regardless, plans for improvements to Memorial Park include significant maintenance to the bleachers during the off-season, as well as improvement of drainage near the playground equipment, the addition of a patio seating area, and the eventual addition of a trail to the park from the downtown area.
• The Dutch Lake/12 Street Park is located near Mallard Pass Trail. City staff said parks committee member April Debner is the driving force behind this park’s development.
The park is popular during the winter months for its skating area and warming house. Planned improvements include the addition of playground equipment and three basketball courts, which could also be used as one hockey rink. The park currently has trails and benches.
• The former middle school site, on 8th Avenue, has been a joint project between the school district and the city. The area is ripe for development, given its proximity to the current school and adjacent ball fields. Specifics have yet to be determined, but, since the area has been used as active community space for a century, morphing it into a park seems logical, according to Haggenmiller.
Fully connecting the city
The original park and trail plan does address the need for the development of additional trails.
Current sidewalks in the interior of the city will eventually be developed to run to city parks and recreation areas.
Specific details of the trail plan include a trail heading south of town to the high school. A future community park is planned along this trail segment.
The biggest part of the trail plan includes the addition of a Howard Lake loop, which would need the involvement of both the county and surrounding townships. The railroad trestle to the southwest may be problematic to this trail’s full construction. Completion of this loop would provide trail access to Memorial Park, the county fairgrounds, and a nearby campground. The parks and trail plan indicate this loop will most probably need to be built in segments.
Big picture, the park and trail plan is still in place and is in slow, but steady progress. The current council would like to speed things up, but is fully aware it needs to budget and plan for every dime to be spent.
“We need to put care into our parks the same way we put care into our buildings and infrastructure,” Howard Lake Mayor Pete Zimmerman said.
“It seems as though we’ve been overlooking park maintenance because it’s easily ignored, and that’s on the council and the city staff,” Zimmerman continued.
“How do we expect our residents to take pride in our amenities if we aren’t even keeping them fresh and usable to their full potential? And again, this takes resources; resources that in recent years we weren’t willing to earmark to these efforts because we were trying to be as lean as possible.”
Howard Lake’s Parks and PlanningCommittee