New ideas for reshaping parkland at lakes Calhoun and Harriet as large as covering a key intersection between the lakes with a land bridge and as detailed as installing a composting toilet were detailed Tuesday in the most detailed discussion to date of revamping the area.

A long list of ideas for reshaping the lakeshore area was unveiled for reaction at the sixth of eight scheduled meetings of an advisory committee to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The group has been encouraged by park planners to think in a 25-year time frame for changes at the two lakes, although the only money now in hand is $3 million in Metro Council funding for repairs and improvements at the lakes. It is tentatively slated to adopt its recommendations on Jan. 12, including setting its highest priorities.. 

The laundry list of ideas and alternatives unveiled clearly would take years and millions of dollars more than the park system now has resources for. The list is so ambitious that the group, which isn’t scheduled to meet again until Nov. 17, only got to four of nine key lakeshore areas in two hours of giving feedback. But some consensus emerged on the proposals by planners for Lake Calhoun.

For example, the panel generally favored the idea of relocating boat launch and sailing school facilities away from the crowded refectory area at Calhoun’s northeast corner to relieve congestion. One idea under study would move the boat launch to the parking lot on the lake’s north shore, while another would build a new sailing area on the lake’s northwest corner, inside a parkway that would loop farther from the shoreline.

Another overarching theme in the planner proposals was to downsize large grassy areas in the northwest and southwest corners of Calhoun. Michael Schroeder, the assistant superintendent heading the planning effort, suggested that areas for active athletics be preserved in those areas, but that they be tucked amidst small wetlands intended to improve the lake’s water.  

Schroeder suggested that the preserved play areas be improved for hard play by improving the soil under them so that they are above areas that sometimes flood, and can support grass that recovers quickly from intensive use.

Some of the proposals dealt with improving access to Calhoun. One would make it easier to cross W. Lake Street between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, where trails worn in grass already suggest the public uses that route. One longer-term idea that dates back to 1990s planning for the area is extending the Lake Harriet trolley north along the parkway on Calhoun’s east side, which would require converting the roadway to a southbound one-way street. Panel members encouraged considering an even longer trolley route, although some worried that a railed vehicle isn’t adaptable enough for future changes.

Also on the lake’s north side, planners suggested that the Thomas Avenue crossing of Lake be improved and connect to Isles via a tunnel under the Midtown Greenway.  Long-term, they’d like to make the Calhoun-Isles connection more seamless by depressing part of Lake while bridging it with a park connection, somewhat like how E. Minnehaha Parkway crosses Hwy. 55 near Minnehaha Park.

At Calhoun’s northwest corner, a new gateway to the planned southwest light-rail station was suggested. Panel members suggested that a new sailing school site with a new pier also provide warming space for winter sports like skating and skiing.

On the lake’s south end, a key new connection planners suggested but the panel didn’t have time to discuss would add a new land bridge over the Richfield Road-William Berry Parkway intersection. That’s a congested place for drivers, bikers and pedestrians who often conflict in tight quarters. The Park Board already has approved a yet-to-be-implemented shorter-term reworking of trails in the area to relieve some of that conflict.  Planners also suggested the general area as a location for a memorial to Cloud Man and the agricultural village he founded in the 1820s near Calhoun as Dakota adapted to diminishing game.    

Other ideas suggested for the Calhoun refectory area were improved facilities for the Tin Fish restaurant there, a more formal green edge to the waterfront, and improved bike and watercraft rental facilities.

New restroom and often changing room facilities were suggested at multiple locations at Calhoun alone. They include the refectory area, north, east side and south beaches, and the the northwest corner. It’s not likely that all will be affordable.

Schroeder suggested that the southwest corner of the lake could be used as a place for an interpretive boardwalk near the lakeshore. He also suggested that the area could be used as a lab for sustainable practices, such as a composting toilet that would spare the heavy cost of extending sewer lines to the Thomas beach area. A boardwalk running over the lake was suggested for the northwest corner as well.

An open house at which the ideas can be viewed is scheduled for Nov. 5 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.at 3450 Irving Av. S. More information about the concepts presented by the planners is expected to be posted at the project web site.

One idea that’s likely more controversial that the group ran out of time to discuss is closing the lower east side road at Harriet, much as a road that once ran close to that lake’s south side was closed decades ago. A similar proposal in the 1990s brought opposition from people in the large homes adjoining the upper parkway, but some of the most vocal opponents have since moved out of the area. Such a closing would create more parkland by the lake and allow bike and walking trail improvements, according to planners.

(Photo: The Lake Calhoun refectory area is the most crowded activity area at the lake.)