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Restrooms finally coming to Park Point's Lafayette Park

The beach on Park Point was a popular place for beating the heat in August 2015. (News Tribune file photo)

They've been a long time coming, but public restrooms should finally be installed at Park Point's Lafayette Park this year.

Park Point resident Dennis Hoelscher began the push for the project back in 2003, successfully seeking a grant to draw up plans for the restrooms. But subsequent efforts to fund construction of the facilities with the help of grants got tripped up when the city was unable to produce needed legal documentation to prove that it indeed owned Lafayette Park and the community center that sits there.

Dawn Buck, president of the Park Point Community Club, credits Assistant City Attorney Bob Asleson for finally clearing up the title issues that had dogged the project for years.

"As far as I understand it, Bob Asleson was pivotal in doing all the research and legwork to determine the validity of the title," said 2nd District Duluth City Councilor Em Westerlund, who represents Park Point.

"It's amazing what one piece of paper can allow or prevent from occurring," Westerlund said.

With the title issue resolved, Duluth applied for and recently received a $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program to construct restrooms at LaFayette.

Earlier this week, the Duluth City Council formally accepted that grant and authorized the city to match those funds, providing a total budget of up to $200,000 for the project.

While there are restrooms in the Lafayette Community Center building, it's not always open to the public.

"It's a popular beach access point, and during most of the week and most of the day there are no restroom facilities or there might be a (portable toilet)," said Andrew Slade, assistant manager of Duluth's parks and recreation department.

Buck said the single portable biffy the city typically has set up at Lafayette during past summers has been insufficient to serve the throngs of beachgoers who converge on the Point each year when the weather warms. She said the beach has grown busier with Duluth's emergence as a popular tourist destination.

But with that traffic have come some problems. Buck said far too many people have chosen to relieve themselves in the dunes, often trampling vegetation, destabilizing the sensitive dune environment and soiling the landscape.

"It's not exactly what you'd expect to find on what's considered a world-class beach," she said.

Westerlund shared Buck's concern about the situation.

"It's not only a sanitary issue, but it can also threaten the ecological health of the dunes. Then there's also the fact that once people start making a path to a place where they can take care of their business, others may follow," she said.

Hoelscher agreed that public urination and defecation on the Point present myriad problems.

"It's an environmental issue. It's a health issue. And it's a recreation issue," he said.

Buck said the restrooms should ease occasional friction between Park Pointers and visitors.

"From the community club's perspective, we like to see people come down here. We want to be good hosts and good stewards. We want people to enjoy this place, but we also want to keep it as pristine as possible," she said.

Westerlund said city staff have been prioritizing improvements to areas of Park Point that have been designated as "Tier 1" beach access points, such as Lafayette.

"I think this is the first step in really establishing and setting the bar for where we want those Tier 1s to be with the amenities that not only tourists but residents are going to be looking for," Westerlund said.

But Slade said it's unlikely public restrooms will be coming to all of Park Point's Tier 1 sites, including less-developed areas, such as the S-curve beach.

"What sets Lafayette apart is that we are able to tap into an existing building and its plumbing there. Then all the utilities are going right into the building. There's a very low chance the city would have done something there if it required a whole new building with all-new utilities. But because we have the building there, we are able to tap right in, and that makes it possible to do this," he explained.

Westerlund praised the city's pending investment at Lafayette as a positive step, nevertheless.

"It's just a bathroom, but a bathroom is kind of a critical component when we start thinking about how busy Park Point gets in the summer and how many folks we have down there enjoying the lake. I think it's going to make a really big difference," she said.