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A group of anglers try their hands at fishing from the dock at Paul Bunyan Park early Monday morning. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Preliminary master plans revealed for waterfront parks

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BEMIDJI - After several months of meetings and community input, the preliminary master plans for the redesign of the Lake Bemidji waterfront parks were revealed Monday night.

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The meeting, held at the Public Works Facility, drew about 35 people.

Project Manager Amanda Prosser of Brauer & Associates said the plans were a combination of comments and criticisms both she and George Watson, president of Brauer & Associates, had heard since the last public meeting held May 8.

In the South Shore Park master plan, an eating space near the lake will be set up and the designated beach area will be cleaned up so it's usable. There will also be a play area with traditional playground equipment and a splash area. Two seasonal docks will also be installed for boat users to come to downtown Bemidji, Prosser said.

In the Paul Bunyan/Library Park master plan, the Third Street exit will officially be closed to help improve pedestrian flow from downtown, Prosser said.

"That's something we've heard from the very beginning of this project," she said. "We want to really draw people in from downtown."

A family gathering, picnic and playground area will be the center of Paul Bunyan Park, leaving Library Park a passive area, as the people of Bemidji had requested, Prosser said.

A trail connection bypass will be built underneath Highway 197, and the portion of the trail closest to Highway 197 will be pulled in 15-20 feet.

A point of concern at previous meetings was losing parking space. Prosser said the redesign will leave the park with 101 parking spaces, down seven from the current 108.

The Rotary pavilion will be relocated into the center portion of the park, and the Jaycees pavilion would likely be moved to a different park, Prosser said.

"I'm disappointed to see the Rotary pavilion be (relocated)," Vance Balstad, co-chair of Fishing Has No Boundaries Bemidji, said. "We use it as our food and organization building, so I really hate to see that leave. I don't see why we couldn't leave it where it is and put a new one in, too. I guess old isn't always good."

As for the Jaycees Water Carnival, Prosser and Watson reassured the crowd there would still be room for all the vendors.

"All of the vendors have sent us their space requirements and all of their trailers and tents will still fit," Prosser said. "They'll have to reconfigure (the layout of) the event, but there's still plenty of space, and the lawn space will be a lot nicer."

Four concrete pads for temporary docks will be installed around the lakefront. Balstad raised his concern for the pontoons used for Fishing Has No Boundaries.

"We usually have two pontoons on each side of a dock so that means there has to be space for four pontoons in between each dock," Balstad said.

Watson said the concrete pads would likely be placed as far apart as possible.

A main concern for Watson is to ensure the shoreline won't continue eroding, he said.

"Some kind of natural brush or other foliage found here will be placed down to help stop the sand erosion," Watson said.

This raised another issue for Balstad, who said that during the Fishing Has No Boundaries event, dozens of pontoons are beached along the lake, and certain types of covering won't allow them to do that.

"Accessibility for our water craft is my main concern," Balstad said. "If it's rocked or covered in native bushes, we cannot load or unload the boats from the lake."

Watson said they'll have to reach a balance between stopping the degradation of the lakeshore and providing the people of Bemidji with the amenities they need or want.

"Our goal is to meet your needs but to also preserve the park," Watson said.

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