Just before dusk on an evening thick with humidity, several dozen people of mixed ages and races relaxed on blankets spread across the sand at Hidden Beach, on the east side of Cedar Lake.
A few small children splashed in the shallows. Two young women twirled Hula-Hoops on a slab of concrete and a group of young men listened to music; one was reading a paperback novel.
It was about as idyllic a summer Minnesota evening as you could find.
But nearby were also two police squad cars — evidence, neighbors say, that in a couple of hours this stretch of sand, oak trees and thick underbrush would soon turn into a “no man’s land” of drinking, drugs and fistfights.
Hidden Beach is at once legendary and infamous. The rock band Hüsker Dü featured a picture of the beach on its album “New Day Rising” and another band, Pink Mink, wrote a song about it.
“Forget all that you know and take off all of your clothes and feel the sand between your toes,” they sang.
And, they might have added, watch out for gunplay and drunken drivers, say Kenwood residents, who met on Monday night, a few blocks from the beach, to talk about trying to temporarily close the beach.
Some residents want to put the area off-limits until the city can find a long-term solution to what they say is a “qualitatively different” level of disturbance and crime.
Neighbors who live near the beach crammed into the rec center to tell of recent incidents, including a fight that drew 30 police cars and 70 officers after a young man punched a cop.
Another incident was a “demolition derby” in which a young intoxicated woman drove through a resident’s garden before slamming into several cars at 2 a.m. Neighbors had to hold the driver until police arrived. Residents also talked about people crashing their wedding party, and watching a man with a handgun jump into a moving truck.
Not exactly what they had in mind when they moved into “A neighborhood for all seasons.”
Friction between Kenwood residents and young people at the beach is not new. I recall cops chasing me and my little hoodrat friends from Jefferson Junior High off the beach a few times.
Stories of outrage over the beach in this newspaper go back to at least 1987, when we described comical scenes of cops chasing nude sunbathers into the water. There have been infamous characters, including a guy they called “the Mud Man,” who oversaw mud pits where naturists bathed.
There have been numerous drug busts, one foiled kidnapping and what police speculated was a “satanic ritual” when they found “two headless goats, drained of blood, with the testicles cut off.”
One man in his 50s sitting at Hidden Beach dismissed the concern as “people not remembering what it was like to be young. They should visit Chicago.”
My gut instinct would be to agree with the man, until I went to the meeting and heard neighbors’ stories.
Lisa Goodman, the Minneapolis City Council member for the area, said problems are different this summer.
“Every year I’ve been on the City Council there have been problems,” said Goodman. “This year it’s definitely three times worse than it’s ever been. I think it’s turned violent.”
Larry Moran, chair of the Kenwood Isles Area Association, said the issue has often been presented as wealthy residents against misbehaving teens.
“There is an impression that we all eat caviar for dinner,” said Moran. But he points out that the people most affected are those who live in modest homes along the woods.
After Monday’s meeting, Moran said the board will draft a resolution asking the Minneapolis Park Board to either close the beach altogether, or at least after 6 p.m. He’s well aware that closing the beach would keep law-abiding citizens away, while the people who don’t follow the law might still sneak into the wooded area.
Closing it “would make it a black-and-white issue,” allowing police to ticket violators for trespassing, Moran said. “I think it would be unprecedented to close a beach.”
Either way, it’s a short-term problem. Moran said what’s needed is a long-term solution, which may include making the beach more attractive to families, with classes or athletic facilities or kayak rentals.
The proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit project, which is so controversial in this neighborhood, could also influence beach development.
“We have the opportunity with Southwest LRT to create a new normal at the beach,” Goodman said.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin