MANKATO — They want barbecue grills at Alexander Park and maybe a water park at Tourtellotte. They want a canoe launch at Land of Memories Park and lights in the back shelter at Highland. They want a statue of George Washington in Washington Park and permission to bring their dogs to Sibley Park. And they want pickleball courts. Somewhere, anywhere, the city needs to set up some pickleball courts.
Mankatoans were telling city staff what they want from the Mankato park system Wednesday night, just as they had at initial open house the previous Wednesday and via a survey on the city website. And that’s exactly what new Parks Superintendent Mark McQuillan was hoping for.
“The way I approach it is parks are for the people,” said McQuillan, who took leadership of the park system in late February. “Whatever we can do to attract more people to the parks the better.”
Part of the motivation is preservation, because vacant parks are vulnerable to vandalism.
But the open houses, a first step in the updating of the 50-year Mankato parks plan written in 2000, are mainly about making sure the city’s parks are serving their highest purpose. The nature of the city’s population is changing and so are the interests and activities of its people.
McQuillan, for instance, had just concluded a conversation with some avid pickleballers about possibly transforming some underused tennis courts into pickleball courts. Pickleball?
McQuillan quickly explained that it’s a sport that looks a bit like tennis but is played on a smaller court with a wiffle ball. One tennis court could become four pickleball courts.
“It’s the fastest growing activity in the United States right now,” he said.
Recognizing trends and meeting the future demands of residents is an element of revising the 50-year plan.