BAXTER — A gate at Baxter’s new Riverview Park is keeping unwanted vehicles out, but it may also be giving residents the wrong impression.
The city is developing the park with its stretch along the Mississippi River for passive use — picnics, bird watching and kayak and canoe access. The council authorized a gate be put up to keep motor vehicles out. Earlier discussions hinged on whether the city would need to create a full road and parking area to fulfill its own ordinance requirements or if the passive park could deviate from expectations for a hard surface access. The issue was back before the council during a workshop session Tuesday night.
Vehicle access has been the unresolved issue for the park, which is in the flood district off Riverwood Road and includes wetlands. The council approved the gate to shut the park off to vehicles. But Tuesday council members pointed to the chain-link fence and gate now giving the park an unwelcome appearance.
The question for the council was whether the park, designed to be low-impact, needed to have a paved road and 24-foot parking lot and if a vehicle access was needed for the park.
“I think that’s still a sticking point” Council member Todd Holman said.
Holman said people can park in the nearby cul-de-sac and not have an unreasonable walk to the park. Then a chip trail could be used to give pedestrian access.
Holman was in favor of a kayak and canoe area with shore stabilization and a little mowing. If the Americans with Disabilities Act requires more access, Holman suggested a paved trail, perhaps 8 to 10 feet wide, for access that could loop back to the cul-de-sac. The gate, Holman said, creates an unwelcoming presence to the park.
“This looks like a pretty intense barricade,” Holman said of the gate. He suggested boulders could replace the gate and still repel vehicles.
Council member Jim Klein agreed the gate is unwelcoming, saying people have complained about it. But with a walk-in only sign, Klein said people wouldn’t be able to ride bikes down there.
Olson said even in Southdale people will drive on the paved trail even when the parking lot is right there.
City staff was concerned with being able to access the park with equipment when needed. A removable post was suggested as one option, which could provide an emergency vehicle closer access to the picnic area.
Trevor Walter, public works director, said he believed the park, which has largely been unheralded to date, will gain in use as people realize the opportunities it presents, such as launching tubes or canoes and kayaks at Riverview Park access on the Mississippi River to Crow Wing State Park.
“It’s a nice stretch to float or canoe,” Walter said.
While Klein said people have complained about the gate, he questioned why staff couldn’t go there in the morning to open the gate and come back at night to lock it.
“Now we’re assuming, without any information, vehicles are going to go down there,” Klein said, of the suggestion leaving the gate open would allow vehicle drivers to rip through the area. “That’s speculation. ... Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Walter said there is no if, it has happened in the past with four-wheelers and four-wheel pickups stuck in the wetland. It’s also a lesson the city has learned at other parks with vehicles on soccer fields and in Whipple Beach with pickups on the sand at the beach.
“I’ve seen it time and time again,” Walter said.
“It’s almost a two-edged sword,” said Council member Rob Moser of the need for access for staff and then the need to keep others out.
Council member Mark Cross said he hated to have the city spend money for a fence and gate and then tear it out for something different. Cross recommended staff come back with costs to pave a trail to the picnic area and then create a loop back to the entrance.
Klein questioned why staff couldn’t go to the park and open the gate in the morning and close it at end of the day. He said people say the city has a park but people can’t get to it.
“You just said the gate is the problem,” Olson said. “Now you say you want someone to come and open the gate.”
Cross said if the gate is opened, there will be cars there. Klein said the city has a police department to handle those concerns.
“The damage is done when you see the car down there,” Cross said.
Klein said the damage costs could then be directed back to the culprit.
Estimated costs to put in 21 barrier trees at $175 per tree, 34 barrier boulders at $67 each and a 26 foot Class 5 gravel drive with paved entrance and paved parking lot was expected to cost $43,706.
Staff will return with costs associated with a paved trail option instead.