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Bemidji City Council: North Country Park moves forward; will boast new Carrington Field

Walking trails, a basketball court and a new baseball field could soon be added in northern Bemidji.

The Bemidji City Council Monday approved the plans and authorized advertising for bids for Phase 1 of North Country Park, a new park that would be developed along 30th Street Northwest.

The 20-acre park, made possible in part due to a donation of land from the North Country Health Services Foundation, would include in the first phase a main parking lot with lighting and a play area.

Future plans include another basketball court and outdoor tennis courts, horseshoe pits and bocce ball courts and an additional parking area.

A building may or may not be included in the first phase; that part of the project will bid as a bid alternate in the first phase.

North Country Park would serve a diverse area of neighborhoods, including the nearby Ridgeway Apartments complex, the Vista North townhome development and WoodsEdge senior living campus.

To complete the whole park would cost about $1.4 million, said Marcia Larson, parks and recreation director.

The first phase, to be complete by November, is expected to cost more than $775,000.

The park, once complete, could almost be seen in halves.

The western portion of the park would remain wooded, with grass walking trails meandering through the area. There also would be a smaller area for parking, horseshoe pits and bocce ball courts.

The eastern half would host activities, such as those played on the baseball field, basketball and tennis courts and play area.

Larson said the Parks and Trails Commission held multiple meetings on the plans, including two public sessions with residents of Vista North.

"They were actually pretty pleased with the end result," she said.

Some residents expressed a desire to have the basketball courts a little farther away from the townhome development, so the location of those were swapped with the tennis courts.

"Just to make it a little more quiet," Larson said. "We've tried to get every group involved as much as we can."

The baseball field would serve as the new site for Carrington Field, a baseball field that was removed from Bemidji City Park during its renovations.

The city committed $350,000 toward the new baseball field, which would fund irrigation, fencing, foul poles, grading and seeding. The city will not fund lights. Also, if amenities such as batting cages, bullpens and bleachers are to be added, they will not be paid for with city dollars.

Larson said the baseball association has actively worked with the Parks and Trails Commission on plans for the ballfield but has not, to date, committed financial assistance.

Brian Grund, whose firm Freeburg & Grund designed the park, said he thinks the baseball association is waiting to see what the city decides.

"They've been very good to work with in terms of what they want to see," he said.

The playground will not be part of the overall bid package, Larson explained, because it can be less expensive to bid it out directly from the Parks and Recreation Department and then use volunteer labor to install it.

At one time, North Country Park was planned to be the site of a new indoor tennis facility for the Bemidji Area Tennis Association, but that no longer is the case.

"We heard from (BATA) that they would rather pursue other options at this point," Larson said.

Still, the Parks and Trails Commission is willing to work with BATA and options remain open for the future, she noted.

The City Council noted that the sales-tax funds for parks improvements are dwindling.

North Country Park already is expected to cost more than what is budgeted. In addition to the $600,000 dedicated for sales-tax funding, there is $68,000 available through parkland dedication fees, collected from the Vista North development. Still, that puts the project more than $100,000 short.

Grund said that is why the building, for instance, would be bid as a bid alternate. He said the Parks and Trails Commission would again take a look at the budget once bids are received this spring.

"Brian (Grund) and Marcia (Larson) both have really worked this over hard to find every cost-savings," said Councilor Kevin Waldhausen.

Councilor Ron Johnson said he was concerned that the parks that are left - such as Paul Bunyan Park (the Lake Bemidji waterfront) - will have to be done in phases because there is not enough funding left.

"Most cities looking at parks have to look at phasing them because it's affordable and it's an easier way to get your parks built," Larson said.

She could not speculate about what will happen with the lakefront, for which $650,000 has been earmarked, because planning and design has not yet begun. Once public input is taken and a concept plan is developed, there will be a better idea about price available.

But, she said, Paul Bunyan Park is a regional park, which might have opportunities for funding to which a neighborhood park, like North Country Park, would not have access.

Grund said that while one could look at the first phase of North Country Park as just getting a park halfway done, he also said there were advantages in having a full master plan for the lot.

For instance, he said, if the city was to approach a potential partner to develop the remainder of the park, it could produce the schematics and planning for the entire 20-acre park.

One potential funding source for future properties, Johnson said, was to sell the smaller pieces of residential land that the city owns now that will not likely become neighborhood parks in the future.

"That's something that was mentioned in the parks plan and we definitely plan to revisit this year as we go through our park plan," Larson agreed. "It is a maintenance (cost) to go out there and mow them."