Returning the magic to the park

Though the dirt-embedded snow still coats the roadsides and temperatures are scarcely above freezing, spring was on the minds of commissioners attending the monthly Minot Park Board meeting Tuesday evening.

Of particular interest was a plan to restore Roosevelt Park’s pre-flood ambience, put together by city forestry technician Colette Arneson. In a presentation entitled “Returning the Magic” she proposed improvements to the park’s pathways and amenities, as well as an ambitious restoration of its trees, shrubs and perennials.

After the 2011 Souris River flood, Arneson estimated around 1,000 trees and shrubs were removed. As Roosevelt currently sits, there is from 10 to 15 percent of its pre-flood foliage remaining.

“It’s barren,” she noted. Questioning parkgoers and community members about their preferences, Arneson presented certain improvements that would make the park more usable and increase its aesthetic appeal.

One of these would be the addition of a wooden pergola covered in vines and lined by beds of perennial flowers, something suitable for wedding and graduation pictures that might also promote use of the nearby Roosevelt Park Zoo’s conference room at its new visitor center. Another would be a south retaining wall with several tiers of greenery, built with blocks that would match those used by the zoo.

A variety of trees and shrubs would also be restored around the park.

The projected cost of the project tops off at around $93,600, with the largest expense being pathway restoration. “These are high estimates,” Arneson noted, gathered from area contractors. At least a portion of the work would be done by park staff and volunteers, lowering the total cost. To help pay for the park’s rejuvenation, she mentioned several fundraiser ideas and grants already in mind, including a possible $50,000 flood recovery grant through the U.S. Forest Service.

Enthusiastic about the project, board commissioners pushed the proposal to its Park Foundation meeting afterward to discuss where it might find funds to potentially match up to that $50,000, if needed. Cobbling together sums from several of the foundation’s budgetary line items, commissioner Connie Feist recommended putting forward $14,000 from the parks development item, $24,000 set aside for trees, and another $12,000 from horticulture. Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve earmarking the money for the project, supporting Arneson and the forestry department to proceed with applying for the grant.

Also considered at Tuesday night’s meeting was the zoo’s idea to add a pair of red pandas, which would be on loan from the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama. Eventually Minot’s zoo would like to have breeding pairs of its own, an eventuality reflected in the exhibit’s design.

The exhibit being proposed was presented by zoo veternarian Ann Olson. Replacing the former aviary structure near the grizzly enclosure, the red panda display would incorporate colored, molded concrete with an indoor keeper and nesting areas. Though the costs are estimated to run at around $115,000, funding was not at issue, as the Greater Minot Zoological Society had already secured the money through its foundational fund and some generous community contributions.

What commissioners had to consider was the additional cost of upkeep for the new specimens, which largely subsist on bamboo and other leafy supplements. The annual cost to the park system of keeping them would run about $3,000 per red panda. However, city horticulturist Steve Wharton already has a plan to grow one of two varieties of bamboo proven able to grow in the area, which could supplement the animals’ diet and save on feeding costs. One variety of the plant had even survived the 2011 flood, and grows relatively quickly.

“We’ll have to see how it does,” he said, adding “We know we can get it to grow.”

“I think the thing that’s really going to make this stand out, besides the pandas, is the landscaping,” said Feist, noting that the red pandas’ relative docility and the exhibit’s design will allow for live plants to be incorporated into the little habitat. After some discussion, commissioners approved the project, which will now move into the bidding process.

Other business included:

Leasing for Souris Valley Golf Course a greens mower from TerfWerks at $6,321 for four years; purchase of a track loader with lift attachment from Swanston for $42,526 and an aerator from HTI for $20,959; and awarding of a bid to Minot Pavement the paving with concrete a number of the course’s cart paths, for about $46,000.

Leasing for Minot Park District a three-wheel mower from Davis Equipment for $4,957 for four years, and three wide-area mowers from MTI Equipment for $11,241 each for four years; and rejection of three bids submitted for the leasing of four six-foot mowers, due to widely differing prices and specification problems.

Acceptance of a bid from Cunningham Recreation for Polaris Park playground equipment totaling $47,216; and a bid for replacing two of Roosevelt Park Pool’s smaller water slides from BC6 Builders for $27,984.

Approval of bills totaling $621,134, salaries of $107,365, and two liquor permits.