By Mark Fischenich
---- — MANKATO — Local dogs will have a lot of room to run, unleashed, and mountain bikers will have their own no-dogs-allowed trails in Kiwanis Park under a peace agreement negotiated by Mankato Parks Supt. Mark McQuillan.
The two groups had been in conflict since the local mountain bike club added trails to the park along the Minnesota River just north of the Highway 14/Highway 169 interchange. Dog owners, who have had fenced areas at the park for several years, had developed a strong sense of ownership of the park and several were taking their pooches on unleashed walks on a wood-chip trail leading to the river.
Bikers were displeased that dog owners were violating city ordinances by failing to leash their dogs, some of which enjoyed chasing bikes, when outside the fenced in portion of the park.
"If there's consensus and agreement here that is is a plausible plan we all can agree with, we'll take it to the council," McQuillan said, predicting the Mankato City Council will make a decision at its Feb. 24 meeting.
And there seemed to be consensus Thursday with both sides applauding McQuillan's work at finding a compromise.
"I think this looks like a great solution," said Lucas Raatz, president of Mankato Area Mountain Bikers club.
Under the plan, the current mountain bike trails — constructed by the club — will continue and signs will be erected making clear that dogs, whether leashed or unleashed, are prohibited. The wood-chip trail and potential future trails to the northern boundary of the park will be open to unleashed dogs, bird-watchers, hikers, snow-shoers and others — as long as they're not riding a bike.
The bikers probably get a little more acreage under the plan, but the dog folks get more riverside land.
The plan was so well-received that the majority of people on both sides suggested McQuillan drop his plan to build separate-but-equal parking lots so that bikers and dog owners wouldn't have to mix even when loading and unloading their vehicles.
"Putting a whole new parking lot in doesn't seem like a good use of taxpayer money," said biker Chris Crocker.
Some disagreed, suggesting that conflict would be avoided by the separated lots, but most suggested it wouldn't be a problem as long as dogs were leashed until reaching the parts of the park where unleashed dogs are allowed.
In the end, McQuillan suggested giving it a try and adding the second gravel parking lot later if necessary.
As for the basic dividing lines in the park, there was little disagreement. Dog owner Mary Willerscheidt requested a fence dividing the two areas all of the way to the river, and Raatz said the bike trail should have at least one good overlook of the river so bikers aren't tempted to use the wood-chip trail.
McQuillan said some fencing would be added in an area where there's little distance between the two uses, but he said it's probably not practical to construct a fence nearer the flood-prone river because it would be washed away most springs.
Assuming the council likes the compromise, the changes should be in place this summer — including lots of signs specifying what is allowed where.
"Once this is approved, it becomes an education process for the public," he said.