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Bemidji City Council moves forward with Phase 2 of North Country Park Natural Playground

The city also received an award from the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association for the playground, alongside the Bemidji Rotary Club.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — In its session on Monday, the Bemidji City Council agreed to move forward with the second phase of the North Country Park Natural Playground.

The first phase of the playground, which was built in partnership with the Bemidji Rotary Club, was recently recognized with an award of excellence from the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association.

Michelle Snider, the executive director of MRPA, was in attendance at the June 6 meeting and presented city staff with an award plaque.

“Our awards committee was especially impressed with your project,” Snider said. “The level of community support this project received was absolutely astounding.”

Along with volunteer hours, the park was constructed with the help of a $36,000 donation from the Bemidji Rotary Clubs, leading to the first phase being completed in August 2021.

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Now the city and Rotary are continuing their partnership for the second phase of the playground, which will add “fallen timbers” to the park.

Rotary is planning on donating an additional $17,000 for the second phase of the park, along with a grant from the Neilson Foundation totaling $36,165.

“We’re excited as a Rotary club to keep partnering with the parks here in town,” said Brad Olson, Rotarian and club president-elect.

Construction of the second phase of the playground is planned to begin in July or August and should be completed by September or October.

“It’s a tight schedule,” said Marcia Larson, Bemidji’s Parks and Recreation director, “but we feel we can accomplish that.”

The city council unanimously approved a revised Memorandum of Understanding with the Bemidji Rotary Club, allowing planning for the second phase to begin.

Pedestrian solutions

The council also approved a demonstration project by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for pedestrian traffic on State Highway 197 at Sixth Street Northwest.

Located in a heavily trafficked area, both by vehicles and pedestrians, the project would look to address safety concerns for those crossing the street.

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“People are not obeying the speed in that area and they’re running the light down there,” said Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer. “I’m up to trying anything at this point.”

Currently, anyone looking to cross the road at this location has to pass through five lanes of traffic, but the project would install a temporary pedestrian island on the south side of the intersection to allow individuals to cross the road in sections.

“Instead of crossing five lanes of traffic, now (pedestrians) can cross two lanes and pause in the center median area,” said Sam Anderson, assistant city engineer.

This project would, however, close the existing left turn lane to Sixth Street, which led to some concerns about how traffic might be affected.

“While I think it’s an interesting experiment, I think it’s the wrong location,” said Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson.

When it came to a vote, the demonstration project was approved 5-1, with Peterson in opposition. At-Large Councilor Daniel Jourdain was not present for the session.

The traffic island will be constructed before the July 4 weekend and will be made of temporary measures like signs and road markings, and be taken down before winter.

The project is also looking for public feedback and if the reception is positive a more permanent solution could be constructed.

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“It’s an opportunity to try and improve pedestrian safety,” Anderson said.

Other business

The council also approved an outdoor dining application by Table for 7, allowing sidewalk dining outside of the restaurant.

A paved pathway between the Bemidji Middle School and Bemidji City Park was also approved, with a bid awarded for the amount of $582,399. All but $50,000 of the cost will be covered by a grant and federal construction aid.

Purchases and repairs for the Sanford Center were also approved, coming from the funds originally provided by ASM Global for capital improvements.

Habitat for Humanity approached the council looking for assistance with demolition fees for a condemned building on a lot the organization hopes to build a low-income home on.

Under current city statute, however, the council had to decline but is examining other avenues that might allow alternative forms of assistance.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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