Richie Swanson: Invite public input on the final draft of parks plan

December 16, 2018

Winona’s parks plan is a Herculean effort worth praise. But as it races to the finish line, it may hamstring itself with an Achilles’ heel, denying the public an extended comment period and a hearing on the final draft. The City Council may approve the plan Monday, though citizen input can still benefit it.

The plan omits the 2005 Aghaming Trail System Plan, crucial ecological info, from its list of existing plans (p. 19). It doesn’t explicitly include John Latsch’s intention written in Aghaming’s deeds: to use the acreage “in connection with the Upper Mississippi River Wild Life and Fish Refuge.” The plan can celebrate Latsch and educate readers simultaneously, listing Latsch’s intention as Aghaming’s number one opportunity.

The plan recognizes Aghaming’s agreement with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. It recommends creating a management plan with USFWS and a park committee (p. 47). But it also recommends developments inconsistent with wildlife refuges in wetland and endangered habitats, particularly fat bike trails and also boardwalks, which floods will likely deposit atop vegetation.

The plan wonderfully reflects citizens’ concerns. But it has a confusing table that prioritizes natural resource goals — a numerical code that involves laborious cross-referencing (p. 159). The goals can be added in plain English to the “Recommendations and Opportunities” section of each park (p.40-127), so readers can weigh them with recreational influences. They can also be listed park-by-park in clear language in the “Natural + Water Stewardship” section.

The plan seems to resist the state protection of timber rattlesnakes, advocating the enhancement of “individual species populations that do not cause health or safety issues” (p. 154). This needs clarification, particularly because of recreational development in bluff-lands. Citizens deserve to discuss any exemption to state law, and larger issues, e.g. whether they favor a “natural areas” designation to the plan’s “open spaces” designation.

If the city provides a meeting and input period for questions and concerns, then nobody can say only council, staff and consultants — not citizens — discussed final language and decisions in the final draft. Then everyone can participate in the final draft guiding our parks’ future.

Richie Swanson, Winona

Editor’s note: In addition to the city council and city staff, the planning commission and a task force had input on the final draft. In addition, the city held a public kickoff in April and a public open house in August to initiate conversations with the public, not to mention a survey that was available on the city website.

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