Minneapolis park officials are considering the novel idea of letting half of the grass at Nokomis and Hiawatha lakes go natural. They also are reviewing a plan for off-road bike competitions at Wirth Park. There is even a push to restore a long-dry waterfall on the Mississippi River waterfront.

Large or small, dozens of ideas for improving three Minneapolis regional parks that draw several million visitors annually are being floated in draft plans that will govern how those parks are retooled over the coming decades.

The proposals are the first large-scale rethinking of these city parks in decades and will reflect generational changes in attitudes and interests in outdoor recreation.

"You're getting into what's the new wave of how people are going to recreate in the future," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski, citing off-road cycling as one example.

How precedent-setting can these master plans be? The Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park is still operating under one drawn up 80 years ago in the Depression. The Metropolitan Council requires them as a condition for funneling state and metro money into regional parks; the draft plans will require tens of millions of dollars and decades to carry out.

Here's an overview of major changes proposed by each:


The city's largest park makes up more than 10 percent of the park system, although it's mostly in Golden Valley. Former Superintendent Theodore Wirth saw it as the Minneapolis version of New York's Central Park. It's probably the park system's most wooded and secluded preserve and offers 27 holes of golf.

One main thrust of the $21 million plan is to strike a balance between winter uses such as cross-country skiing and tubing and summer uses such as golf and off-road cycling, said George Puzak, who chaired an advisory committee.

Several golf holes would be realigned to accommodate other uses, and a wider course aimed at high school off-road cycling competition would join the park's single-track trails. Trails would be marked better and unofficial ones closed. "There were so many bootleg trails," Puzak said.

The proposal includes a new center to serve park users ranging from skiers to par-3 course golfers. That's dependent on the Loppet Foundation, which runs sports events at Wirth, raising $3 million.

And a dog park would be added, filling a gap in the lower North Side.


The biggest change for this park, which is slightly more than a square mile in size, is for a more natural grassland but with its landscape still managed. Some areas could be wet meadows, some prairies and others oak savannas. The share of the park's turf given over to native species would grow from a tenth to half, but that would take years.

The main goals are creating more varied habitat, and giving park users a more varied landscape. For safety, the proposal recommends vegetation that grows to no more than 3 feet high, with mowing to prevent crashes at trail intersections.

"We heard pretty overwhelming support," project manager Adam Arvidson said.

Another proposal that's attracted conflicting comments would shut down the Lake Hiawatha beach, already closed frequently due to water-quality issues.

Sandra Colvin Roy, who chaired the advisory committee for this plan, said that's due to more stringent standards rather than worsening water quality. The plan proposes replacing the beach with a more natural shoreline comparable to the rest of the lake, but with a boardwalk and pavilion.

"Hiawatha is one of the best places to watch the sun set in the city," Arvidson said.

Hiawatha's west side would also get a winter-only path, with winter-only gates to allow better access onto the golf course's ski trails. Bike trails and, where sidewalks are missing, walking trails would be added outside the golf course fence.

The proposal also aims to reduce user conflicts. One longer-term plan is to route bike and walking trails that now cross 28th Avenue S. under that street. Another would eliminate the squeeze where bikers and pedestrians compete for space crossing Minnehaha Creek by adding a new foot-only bridge.

The $18.7 million proposal also would refurbish the Nokomis fitness course, remove a deteriorating art installation, and add a skate park and amphitheater near an expanded community center. The Nokomis beach would get sand volleyball courts.

St. Anthony Falls

The $66 million proposal for the central riverfront between Bridge No. 9 and Plymouth Avenue emphasizes better connections to the riverfront and better services, such as bathrooms. It also aims to create a more continuous and less-congested East Bank trail.

Nearly half that money would be spent in the mill ruins area of the West Bank, where a Water Power Park has been proposed with new water features and welcome centers, bringing year-round bathrooms. But a combined bathroom-bandshell would also be installed in a remaking of Father Hennepin Park.

Better trails for the East Bank are also proposed, ranging from a long-sought recreation trail connection between SE. Main Street and East River Road to more extensive trails deep below in the East Bank gorge. An unpaved trail up the east side of Nicollet Island would connect Main and Boom Island Park.

A $1.5 million proposal would restore a waterfall over its historic path in the east channel between Hennepin Island and Main Street.

Twitter: @brandtstrib