A state agency has reversed its decision to ban a high school team from skiing in William O’Brien State Park on weekends.
Coaches for the Stillwater Area High School Nordic ski team said they were caught by surprise when a park manager recently informed them, by letter, that the team no longer could ski in the park on Saturdays — as it had for 40 years.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the ski teams were hindering broader public use of trails and causing maintenance costs for reconditioning.
The new policy, related to a wider statewide parks and trails plan, was intended to find a balance among skiers of all interests, said Phil Leversedge, a DNR parks and trails manager.
But a “productive” meeting, he said, between the DNR and coaches on Tuesday led to the reversal.
“We suspended our decision that changed the times that ski teams could use the park for practice and events and will work over the next several months to develop a plan that meets our mutual goals and continues to engage the young skiers in the outdoors at the park,” he said Wednesday.
One of the coaches, Kris Hansen, said Tuesday she thought the new policy was discriminatory in singling out one group of park users, and discouraged youth from using parks. She also said the DNR hasn’t maintained ski trials in recent years. Instead, she said, as many as 130 high school skiers had done that work, such as shoveling snow onto depleted areas of trails.
On Wednesday, after the meeting with DNR managers, Hansen said both groups agreed to work together to make sure everyone enjoys the William O’Brien park, near the city of Marine on St. Croix in northern Washington County.“
In a related action, the DNR decided to leave the popular Gateway State Trail and its connecting trail, Brown’s Creek, unplowed this winter. Some local governments along the trail cried foul Tuesday, saying they had no voice in the decision and objected to it.
The agency’s new statewide plan shifts more resources to warm-season uses, Leversedge said.
“In making our decision, we also looked at the availability of other plowed winter trails in the area, and there are many other opportunities for people to get out and walk on a safe, plowed trail in the area,” he said.
As far as plowing Gateway and Brown’s Creek trails, Leversedge said, the DNR is “continuing to work with local city and county governments to explore partner opportunities.”
Melinda Coleman, the city administrator in Maplewood, said Wednesday the city was waiting to hear what type of partnership the DNR would propose. The city also will “get our legislators informed of our concerns,” she said.