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.
Much of the public input is coming from the on-line survey, but citizens trickled into the open house at Sibley Park for some personal interaction with McQuillan and Public Works Director Mark Knoff. They also went to stations showing city parks, taking the opportunity to slap a Post-It note with suggestions on an aerial photo of a particular park.
Durwin Hermanson, who lives next to Lions Lake off of Stadium Road, was focused on his neighborhood park. Hermanson was one of the first to build in his subdivision, and he’s watched Lions Park grow and he watched it decline.
A decade or so ago, neighbors got organized and pushed for trash receptacles to reduce litter, signs and plastic-bag dispensers to remind dog owners to do the right thing, and improvements to the algae-filled lake. The city was responsive.
Hermanson just wants to make sure that there’s no back-sliding, and his Post-Its suggested more attention to the rain gardens, more fish-stocking, more recreational activities for park users. Overall, though, he thinks the city has found the right mix of expanding its system and caring for what it already has.
“Over time, I think they’ve done what they could to establish parks and also to maintain them,” he said.