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Pioneer Park development approved

Pioneer Park currently holds one of the downtown Farmers Markets. Those vendors would be relocated under a plan to make the park a memorial. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Pioneer Park will be further developed and public comment will be taken to make the space community-oriented.

The Park Rapids City Council approved the Park Board recommendation to further develop the park while working with the Sanquist family, who want to see the space became a memorial for Dawn Anderson, who died in March.

The Sanquist family has raised about $20,000 already in a memorial fund for Anderson, who owned a daycare in Park Rapids and loved working with children.

Sue Cutler, Park Board chair, gave some background on Pioneer Park. The city purchased the undeveloped lot on Main Avenue 10 years ago. The city purchased the lot with plans to develop it into a city park.

Over the years efforts have been made to develop the area but little has been implemented due to lack of commitment and funding, Cutler said.

Right now there is a sidewalk on the north edge of the park, a decorative concrete slab on the east edge of the park, one bench, two trees in the middle of the park and some honeysuckle shrubs along the south edge.

The Park Board has been meeting with the Sanquists since spring and the biggest conflict has been that the Farmers' Market has been using the space. Several concepts have been proposed and none have enough room to include the Farmers' Market.

"We found that the two uses were not compatible," Cutler said.

At a previous Park Board meeting, Farmers' Market manager Ruth Ann Campton voiced her concerns about developing the park because of the need to dislocate the Farmers' Market. It was suggested that the Farmers' Market could apply for a permit with the city to set up on a downtown side street.

Campton was concerned, however, that it would be difficult to set up tents on blacktop and it would also be very hot on some summer days. The Farmers' Market has up to 20 vendors and has been using the park for seven years.

At Tuesday's meeting, Campton thanked the city for support over the years and asked that they continue to work together to make a new location work.

Cutler said the Park Board would continue to work with the Farmers' Market to find a suitable location.

Developing Pioneer Park is the best use, Cutler said.

"For a project like this you need the involvement of volunteers in a town this size," Cutler said. "And it needs to be a group of people that are very committed, like I think the Sanquists are."

They also have some financial resources to start the project.

"At this point, we anticipate that the city would take on the ongoing maintenance costs, however, we are not asking the city for any equipment or up front costs," Cutler said.

It's very likely that this project can happen, she said. By not going in this direction for Pioneer Park, Cutler thought it would take a lot longer to develop.

Amber Aspengren, sales consultant for Flagship Recreation, has been working with the Sanquists on concepts for the park. One idea is to have a toddler play area with equipment on the west side of the park. Several benches would also be in the park.

"It's primarily a place of rest for shoppers to downtown," Cutler said. "We have several concepts right now but by no means a plan yet."

The Park Board will seek input from the public on the planning.

Pat Sullivan said he attended the meeting as a Rotarian and a supporter of the Sanquist family.

"I think this is a best use for the space," he said.

Judee Bjorn attended the meeting and voiced opposition to developing the park.

She said she was representing the common citizen and has created a different design for Pioneer Park that would include adding five more benches, additional landscaping, a pet area with a waste bag station and a public restroom.

"What about the safety issue?" she asked, referring to the busy street and alley on each side of the park.

Councilwoman Sue Tomte questioned whether downtown was the best location for a park that would include equipment for toddlers. She asked several people in the community if they would consider bringing their toddlers downtown and most said "no," she said.

Sheri Sanquist responded to Tomte's questions.

"I think that it's not going to be a destination but rather a resting area for parents who are shopping downtown," she said.

Diane Smith said she was also concerned about the Farmers' Market relocating if development of the park moved forward.

She also thought bathrooms would be necessary if families would be spending time at the park. Downtown has no public restrooms. Several businesses open their restrooms to the public, though.

Cindy Kelly attended the meeting and said she supports the Sanquists and asked the council to give the project its blessing.

The council approved the recommendation unanimously. Pat Mikesh was absent.

Councilman Dave Konshok asked Park Board members and the Sanquists to make sure that the public is able to give input and the council is also given updates as details come together.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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