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After lifting park entrance fees, Three Rivers Park District next plans to extend visiting hours at its 19 regional parks and preserves in Hennepin, Scott and Carver counties to boost park usage.
Starting in April, park gates would close at 10 p.m. instead of at sunset, under proposed rules scheduled for approval next week.
"This change allows greater opportunities for people to enjoy recreation in the parks and on the trails during the evenings," said Board Chairman Larry Blackstad.
Lifting fees in 2005 removed a monetary barrier to using the parks, Blackstad said. Visits increased by more than 600,000 a year. "Now, by extending park hours, we're reducing a barrier presented by time,'' he said.
In 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, the Park District logged about 5,670,100 visits. Use is expected to increase with the extended hours, said district spokesman Jason McGrew-King.
Other rule changes
As it gets ready for the next year, the Park District is considering other rule changes affecting dogs, beer kegs and use of metal detectors in the parks.
Dogs would be allowed in parks only on non-retractable leashes of six feet or less. Officials said there have been no incidents to prompt this change; the thinking is that long leashes can be a safety hazard on trails used for more than one type of recreation.
Metal prospecting also would be prohibited under the rule changes. Prospecting has been allowed in parks by permit, but officials want to stop it because prospectors have disturbed natural areas when they have dug up what they have located with their detectors, McGrew-King said.
Beer and wine is already allowed in parks, but for the first time the district plans to allow kegs with a special permit to make the parks more appealing for gatherings like dinners or receptions whose organizers make reservations in advance.
The proposed changes will be opened to public comment at 5 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Park District Administrative Center, 3000 Xenium Lane N. in Plymouth. The parks board is scheduled to vote after the hearing.
The longer hours
Park-goers will welcome the longer hours, predicted Lynn Stoltzmann, operations supervisor at French Regional Park.
Fishermen and groups reserving spaces for receptions and dinners have wanted to stay longer, and day-to-day users have also wanted to linger, Stoltzmann said. "There are certainly those really perfect evenings when we are closing up and there will still be people around.''
Ski trails are already open and lit until 10 p.m. in the winter. Extending hours year-round will make the rules uniform and eliminate the uncertainty of the sunset park closings, Stoltzmann said.
By rescheduling park police to avoid adding more officers, the district does not expect costs to increase much because of the longer hours, said Magrew-King.
Larry Myers and Brad Erickson, ski coaches from Wayzata High School who regularly take school skiers to French Regional Park, said they like the idea of extended hours.
Erickson suggested the park district also consider opening early in the morning to allow people to exercise before work and school. Parks now open at 8 or 9 a.m.
Myers, who also walks his dog in French Park, opposes the leash rule change. Retractable leashes give dogs more freedom and that makes sense when no one else is around, Myers said. "I think the dog has to be under your control, whether it's a six-foot leash or 12-foot leash. Why is six-foot a magic number?''
To review the proposed rules changes, call the park district at 763-559-9000 or find them online at www.three riversparkdistrict.org.
Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711