Efforts are heating up in Fridley to move forward with plans for a new picnic pavilion at Springbrook Nature Center.

The pavilion marks the final piece of a yearslong, multimillion dollar project to overhaul various amenities on the 127-acre property.

Springbrook officials have applied for a $150,000 matching grant through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the estimated $370,000 needed for the pavilion project. If selected, the city of Fridley would pitch in a $150,000 match, with the rest coming from either the city or funds raised from the Springbrook Nature Center Foundation, said Springbrook Director Mike Maher.

Grant awards will be announced in June, Maher said. The Fridley City Council approved in March a resolution supporting the center's grant application.

"It's very competitive," Maher said. "It'll be pretty exciting if we get that and we can move forward."

A proposed design for the pavilion includes an open-air picnic shelter, bathrooms and an enclosed activity center. The facility will offer gathering space for visiting groups, outdoor weddings and expanded programming. It could generate up to $10,000 a year in additional revenue, according to Springbrook officials.

Maher said the current pavilion structure will be torn down, describing it as "badly deteriorated" with obvious signs of wear and tear.

The nature center logs about 150,000 visitors a year, many drawn there to explore the property's native prairies, wetlands and oak and aspen forests. In recent years, Springbrook has debuted an expanded interpretive center, a nature-based play area and amphitheater. Fridley purchased most of the original acreage nearly 50 years ago.

Hannah Covington

Lake Elmo

City approves new mountain biking trail

Lake Elmo's Reid Park will be getting a new 2-mile mountain biking trail, following approval by the City Council last month.

The city will get installation and maintenance help from the Stillwater Area Scholastic Cycling Advocates (SASCA). Hikers, walkers, and runners also will have access to the trails, according to the proposal from the city's Parks Commission.

City Planner Ben Prchal said that he expected the trail will be finished by 2020 if not sooner.

The city has considered adding a trail since 2015, when the Parks Commission included it as an improvement goal for Reid Park. As the park grew from 30 to 45 acres in the past couple of years, the commission recommended that the city spend $50,000 on a new trail by 2018. But the plan, for now, is to pay for the trail with grants and in-kind donations.

In February 2017, a SASCA member asked to use Reid Park for mountain biking activities because of its suitable terrain. Now that a trail has been approved, SASCA will help install and maintain it.

Neighbors at a public hearing expressed concern that the trail would be too close to their property, while the Stillwater Area High School assistant principal and the school activities director wrote the city a letter in support of the trail. "These trail development activities offer safe access to our students and provide greater opportunity for our school activities," the letter said. They also emphasized many students live in Lake Elmo, and their families will profit from safer trails, too.

Emily Allen

Brooklyn Park

Cunningham nominated as next fire chief

Brooklyn Park City Manager Jay Stroebel has nominated T. John Cunningham to lead the suburb's fire department nearly 10 months after the previous fire chief stepped down.

Cunningham, Elk River's fire chief and director of emergency management, was selected from among four finalists. Stroebel announced his pick last week, with City Council members expected to vote on the appointment at their May 14 meeting.

Cunningham has more than two decades of experience in the fire service and is currently the president of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, according to a city news release.

Should the appointment win council approval, Cunningham will step into a position left vacant by Fire Chief Ken Prillaman, whose resignation last year revealed stormy division among city officials. Some city leaders say Prillaman was pushed out by "a culture of hostility" involving Council Member Mark Mata, who for years has worked as a paid on-call firefighter.

Mata refuted those claims and has said that he was used as a scapegoat for the chief's departure. Prillaman's separation agreement cost the city about $174,000.

Hannah Covington

City boosts animal limit from three to five

Brooklyn Park residents who train service animals or foster pets through rescue groups can now keep up to five animals at their homes.

City leaders voted unanimously April 23 to raise the suburb's animal limit from three to five at a residential property, citing a recent influx in the number of people fostering or training service animals in the city.

Under the new rule, residents can now keep three permanent pets and up to five animals total, as long as at least two are either being temporarily fostered or trained to perform service tasks through recognized programs.

City staff had originally proposed keeping the three-pet cap but not limiting the number of animals exempted from the rule for fostering or service training. But some council members pushed for a more clearly defined ordinance.

"To not have a limit at all really concerns me, especially when we are talking about residential properties," Council Member Susan Pha said at an April 2 meeting. "I don't want a residential property going, 'I've got 20 dogs because you don't have a limit on there.' "

Police Sgt. Mark Bergeron said at the April 23 meeting that a five-animal limit still places Brooklyn Park "a little bit on the high end" of what neighboring cities allow. According to city documents, Champlin and Crystal permit three animals; Maple Grove and Plymouth allow four; Brooklyn Center permits five, and New Hope allows up to six.

Hannah Covington