Duluth parks plan: Streamline operations, rely on volunteers
With nearly 12,000 acres of public park and open space, Duluth boasts a wealth of opportunities for residents and visitors to commune with nature. But Duluth has been hard-pressed to maintain its far-flung park network, particularly in the face o...
With nearly 12,000 acres of public park and open space, Duluth boasts a wealth of opportunities for residents and visitors to commune with nature.
But Duluth has been hard-pressed to maintain its far-flung park network, particularly in the face of budget cuts, and much of the system is suffering from neglect. Several recreation buildings have been closed.
Going forward, Duluth plans to reduce the number of centers it owns and partner with area schools to make better use of district buildings throughout the community for public recreational purposes.
"The school district has a network of publicly supported facilities, and it doesn't make sense for the city to duplicate those just blocks away," said Mayor Don Ness.
This type of collaboration is just one of the suggestions to be found in the draft version of Duluth's master plan for Parks and Recreation, which is now available for public review online; there's a link attached to this story. The city is seeking public comment on the plan through Friday.
Duluth last revisited the plan some 13 years ago.
Some of the 68-page document's highlights include:
The city plans to lean still more heavily on volunteers for help maintaining and improving city parks. Kathy Bergen, manager of Duluth's Parks and Recreation Department, said volunteers have played an integral role in keeping the city's parks in decent shape for the past couple of years, and she expects the practice to continue.
"That's not a bad thing," she said, explaining: "I think it helps the public develop a sense of stewardship for their parks."
A community volunteer group called Friends of the Parks has undertaken a wide range of tasks, including garbage collection, gardening, trail-building and other maintenance. Hundreds of people have offered their services, according to Judy Gibbs, a seasonal volunteer coordinator.
The city is looking at hiring a permanent volunteer coordinator for the parks. "We have assembled a wonderful group of people who are extremely passionate about parks and trails," Bergen said. "We are blessed with some great volunteers, but even people with great intentions need some direction."
To help provide continued funding for Duluth's parks, the proposed master plan suggests the city identify excess undeveloped property that might be suitable for sale. "There are parks the city has taken on that aren't that well used," Ness said. "We also have situations where two similar park areas are only blocks away from one another, and we need to ask ourselves whether that is a good strategic use of property."
Another option laid out in the master plan is creation of a park authority with the ability to levy funds and issue bonds with City Council approval. Ness said he initially supports creating a dedicated fund that could be used to pay for park improvements without any increase in taxes. The Parks and Recreation Department currently receives its annual appropriation through the city's general fund, making its budget vulnerable when unexpected cuts occur, such as recent reductions in local government aid from the state.
If the community wishes to tackle any ambitious projects down the road, Ness suggested a package might be put to a bond referendum vote, allowing residents to decide whether additional taxes to support the work are justified.