Saturday, December 9, 2006

Park plan pledges to keep it natural
But city will revamp northeast entrance

Pioneer Press

Just let it be.

That's essentially the philosophy behind the recently unveiled master plan for Patrick Eagan Park's 114 acres of woods, wildlife and wetlands in central Eagan.
The park has become central to resident and environmental groups' efforts to create the city's core greenway, a two-mile stretch of public open space that cuts through the heart of the suburb. Pieced together since 1975, the most recent parcel of parkland was acquired in 2004.
"As more and more development occurs, people have realized that there is a limited quantity of green space," parks director Juli Seydell Johnson said. "We are so fortunate to have this land. It's largely been left alone and the public is aware of how rare and valuable that is."
Now that much of Patrick Eagan is intact, the city in May launched a six-month effort to draft a plan that would guide its management through the next two decades.
The master plan, released in November, fundamentally will leave the park the way it's been, with constrained development like trail extensions and a revamped entrance. It's been a balancing act to keep the land pristine, as officials waded through the seemingly contrary forces of preservation and accessibility.
"Our intent has always been to keep it natural," Seydell Johnson said. "We knew it was a gem, but the question was how to open it up and have people come here without causing damage."
With an eye to the park's location between two art venues — the Eagan Art House and Caponi Art Park — the plan calls for the park to be "primarily used and managed for natural resources, passive recreation, quiet contemplation and for nature/arts interpretation and expression."
The city in May hired consultant Hoisington Koegler Group to develop the master plan and the City Council unanimously approved it in November. The time between was devoted to public meetings and workshops.
John Ward, co-chairman of the Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway, was one stakeholder the city consulted. His group formed in 2001 to protect the park after the council looked at converting part of it into a golf course.
"This process was good, and the whole thing was very open," Ward said. "They solicited input, got it and actually listened.
"It's as protected now as it can be for a working park," he said. "With the plan, it's in the city's official interest to protect it. Anything with a master plan tends to stick with that plan instead of straying off course."
Under the plan, city crews will enhance parts of the park by removing invasive species like buckthorn, while leaving more unspoiled areas alone. The bulk of the improvement will be confined to the northeast part of the park, near the Eagan Art House, where a new parking lot and entrance will be built.
"The entrance is not well-established. Right now you either know it's there or you don't," Seydell Johnson said.
In addition to trail extension and improvements, the plan also calls for a new picnic shelter, park benches and overlook areas with views of McCarthy Lake.
The improvements will take at least 20 years, with the new entrance likely to be done within the first three.
"This is very long term," Seydell Johnson said. "It's expensive and when dealing with the natural environment, restorative efforts are a step-by-step effort."
Meggen Lindsay can be reached at or 651-228-5260.
The master plan can be viewed on the city's Web site at under the "Parks & Recreation" tab.