Minneapolis windsurfers, already chased from Lake Harriet by improvements there, are worried that their last safe surfing spot in the Twin Cities could be in jeopardy because of planned parking lot improvements at Lake Calhoun.
The Minneapolis Park Board wants to rebuild a lot on the southeast side of the lake where the surfers put their craft into the water, and part of the project involves realigning a bike path to within 10 feet of the water's edge and adding a hedge in the area where the windsurfers set up their equipment.
Windsurfer Randy Moon, a Minneapolis architect, said moving the bike path so close to the shoreline would be unsafe for both cyclists and surfers. Windsurfing equipment requires nearly 30 feet of space between the shoreline and the bike path to be set up properly and safely, he said. And the hedge would limit their access to the area they now use.
The surfers are concerned they may not be able to continue to use the lake if the plans are not changed.
When wetlands were added to Lake Harriet more than a decade ago to improve water quality, new natural features, including rain gardens and natural shorelines, forced windsurfers off that lake. Now, because Calhoun is the only Twin Cities lake windsurfers can use safely, Moon said, "We have to defend our access points."
The park board for several years has been seeking funding to repair the lot, which was once part of the original Calhoun Boulevard surrounding the lake. The parking surface is in disrepair, and has been for a while, Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine said.
In 2005, the board requested money to redo the lot, and the Metropolitan Council's regional park maintenance fund finally allotted more than $300,000 for the project. In July, the park board chose a contractor and drew up designs, and is planning to begin work after the summer season.
The windsurfers hope they'll be consulted before work begins. Six-year Calhoun surfer Mike Chummers said, "We've asked them for a meeting to be able to sit down with a plan like this and point at specific things and have a conversation, and we haven't had that meeting yet."
Other planned changes include adding a turnaround on one end to control traffic flow, planting new greenery and installing a rain garden to improve the water quality of the lake. All of those additions concern the windsurfers, who fear they will impede the surfers' access to the lake.
The southeast shore of the lake is the only area where they can launch from, Moon said, and the surfers use the existing parking lot because it provides easy access. "On a windy day, we'll fill the lot," Moon said.
The equipment is heavy and cumbersome, and the current lot is easy for loading and unloading. When the new lot is built and the hedges added, the surfers said they assume they will be expected to unload at the end of the new turnaround, which Chummers said is impractical because it is so far from the grassy staging area they use now.
"We have a board, a mast, a boom, a sail and bags of miscellaneous smaller gear. The point is you can't carry all your gear to the grass in one trip. It's just impossible," he said.
Chummers bought his condo a few blocks from the lake specifically because of the lake's proximity for windsurfing. He said he's concerned the park board isn't listening to the windsurfing community -- a group he said includes nearly 100 regulars during the summer season.
Judd Reitkerk, director of park planning and project management, said construction will not begin until this fall at the earliest. He said the park board will hold neighborhood meetings within the next 60 days to gain public input on the designs.
However, he said the plans are close to what the board anticipates they will be.
After hearing from the windsurfers, Reitkerk said, "Maybe some tweaking will happen."
Joy Petersen is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.