What makes a great park? We think it’s a park that has something for everyone — unpaved, wooded trails for those who want to bird-watch or take unhurried walks through a natural setting, and also recreational amenities for those who want picnicking, camping, biking, running, kayaking and more.
We also think it’s a park that is accessible to everyone, whether you’re able to run marathons or use a wheelchair because of a disability; whether you are pushing a baby stroller or riding a horse. Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Dakota County can be all of these things. And it doesn’t require paving over paradise or bulldozing the wilderness as some have claimed.
The truth is there is no pristine wilderness in Lebanon. This 2,000-acre park spent decades as farmland. Now it is overrun with invasive species. The current draft master plan dedicates $15.5 million to land protection and restoring natural ecosystems to the park. That would eradicate a lot of buckthorn and plant some wonderful oak savannas. Another $15 million or so would provide facilities for popular recreation. That’s called balance. And that makes a great park.
The plan calls for some paved trails — one that connects campsites with recreational areas so families could actually ride bikes from a campground to the park’s visitors center and beach. The others would loop around two small lakes. Minnesotans love to walk year-round, and these trails would provide that opportunity. The plan adds six miles to the already 40 miles of unpaved trails in the park. This bears repeating. There would be 46 miles of unpaved trails and eight miles of paved trails.
Some balk at the idea of one paved trail providing access through the middle of the park. This route was chosen to be environmentally sensitive, separate from existing trails that people enjoy today, and provide opportunities for others to enjoy the park. And let’s remember: In a 2,000-acre park, you’d seldom have to see people using a paved trail if you didn’t want to.
This park is not home to pristine, old-growth forest. It is a park with great potential to meet the recreational needs of many people. The draft plan for Lebanon Hills does this, while improving the natural resources and ecological health of the park. We believe that will bring even more people to Lebanon Hills. And that makes a great park.
The writer is a Dakota County commissioner and chair of the county’s Physical Development Committee.