Lester Park is a gem, a miracle worth holding onto. With its cold-water trout stream, swimming holes, accessibility to park-goers of all income levels, and green space, Lester Park retains something increasingly rare in our time: a true wilderness feel within city limits. This is something money can't buy.
The idea of privatizing any portion of Lester Park is a radical one that should be met with the highest scrutiny. There are a number of questions that have still not been adequately answered by the proponents of a plan to add 400 housing units to Lester Park. These include:
• What would the impacts of a high-density development be to Lester Park as a whole?
• What would the impacts be to existing neighborhoods and traffic?
• What would be the environmental impacts of replacing green space with housing outside of our current green belt?
• What do the citizens of Duluth actually want for this publicly owned land?
You might be thinking, especially if you've listened to the limited conversation so far, "Yes, but don't we have budget and deferred maintenance issues in Duluth?" You would be correct in noting the importance of finances in these decisions. But you might also be surprised to learn that privatizing and developing a portion of Lester Park could actually be an expensive idea from a financial perspective.
The Trust for Public Land has noted that "when open space is transformed into homes, the taxes of existing residents invariably increase because while development generates tax revenue, the cost of providing public services and infrastructure to that development is likely to exceed the tax revenue emanating from it."
Because of this, communities around the country are actually purchasing open space and designating it parkland to prevent future residential development.
We have what most other cities can only dream of. Abundant parks and green spaces define our sense of place. They help us address climate goals and enhance biodiversity. They attract investment, and visitors, and help maintain property values and quality of life. The green space that protects Lester Park, and which surrounds our city, is a key component of our essential Duluth character.
In a world where natural areas are increasingly under duress, Duluth's public land only gets more valuable - and protecting it more necessary.
If we take the time to ask, we might find that selling any portion of Lester Park is the last thing the citizens of Duluth want to do for a one-time budget fix. Instead, they might have other ideas for the best future for Lester Park and a different measure of its true long-term value.
We believe the whole of Lester Park should remain as publicly owned green space. The time is now for a much more robust conversation about its value - and with more voices at the table, including those of indigenous people, neighborhood residents, advocates for environmental opportunities, and more.
The generations to follow deserve no less.
JT Haines of Duluth is a member of the recently created citizens group Keep Lester Green (keeplestergreen.com). This was written and submitted on behalf of the group's core team, which also includes Ryan Jones-Casey of Duluth, Libby Bent of Duluth, Rich Staffon of Cloquet (who is president of the Duluth chapter of the Izaak Walton League), and Kelsey Jones-Casey of Duluth.