MANKATO — Dogs are prohibited in roughly half of Mankato's Kiwanis Recreation Area and bikes are banned in the other half under a plan approved by the City Council Monday night, a plan expected to bring peace after months of sometimes tense conflict between the two user groups.
Leaders of both groups met in January with Parks Supt. Mark McQuillan to seek a compromise after the addition of mountain bike trails generated resentment from some dog owners, who felt a strong sense of ownership of the park between Highway 169 and the Minnesota River on Mankato's north side.
In the end, dog walkers and bike riders came together by agreeing to keep their distance in the 100 acre park. Under the plan, leashed dogs and bikers will share the paved trail, but dogs — leashed or not — will be prohibited on the mountain bike trails on the south side of the park. The plan also establishes a no-bikes zone on the north side, where a current wood chip trail along the river and future wood chip trails will — for the first time — be legally open to unleashed dogs.
Monday's council meeting brought a large contingent from both sides, but the majority of those who spoke were complimentary of the compromise and ready to put the conflict in the past.
"We're fighting over a sandbox," said biker Greg Lessard.
Lessard suggested a long list of proposed rules for the park could be replaced by one.
"Start being nice to each and showing proper etiquette," he suggested.
But a suggestion that such an approach would allow dogs and bikes to harmoniously share all parts of the park was generally rejected.
Brian Guess of Mankato said a significant buffer zone between the two uses was wise because not all people are going to practice proper park etiquette.
"Dog owners are no different than bike owners," Guess said. "Some are courteous and some aren't."
The council was confident enough that the plan will work that it voted, for now, to eliminate a planned fence between the off-leash dog trails and the mountain bike trails. Instead, city staff are hoping to work with the Mankato Area Mountain Bikers club to relocate a section of trail that currently is just a few feet from the wood chip trail.
"If we can create a buffer area between the bikes and the (unleashed dogs), that expenditure may not be necessary," City Manager Pat Hentges said of the fence.
And the opportunity to create that larger neutral zone will probably come as soon as winter ends because many of the trails in the flood-prone park are likely to disappear with the melting snow, Hentges predicted.
"Obviously with the snow pack, all of that area will probably be flooded," he said.