Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Castle Park nature-based initiatives continue to progress

  • Public input sought at June 15 design session in Crookston.

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  •     Despite the City of Crookston's major grant application for Minnesota DNR Parks & Trails funding of a project that would revolutionize Castle Park being essentially in limbo because of the legislative stalemate in St. Paul, efforts to bring a "Natural Play Space" to the park continue to ramp up.
        And those who are making it happen want your input.
        Community members and organizations are invited to participate in the design process on Wednesday, June 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Polk County Sheriff’s Department Community Room (600 Bruce Street), across the street from the Northwest Mental Health Center. A healthy and free lunch will be provided from 11:30 to noon.  Sarah Reese, Polk County Public Health coordinator of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) asks that interested participants RSVP to her at 281.3385 or sreese@pcphealth.org by Thursday, June 9.
        So, what is a Natural Play Space and why should we want one in Castle park?
        Reese explains:
        "There is growing research and awareness that connecting children to nature has multiple benefits (physical, social, emotional). An effort is beginning in northwestern Minnesota to integrate and apply the emerging knowledge on this topic to developments in our community. Natural play areas use a blend of natural areas and things found in nature including rocks and plants to interest children in learning about the wonders and secrets of the natural world. Swings and slides may still be there, but new-style playgrounds also offer other things to do that enhance creativity, physical activity and spending time in nature."
        Polk County Public Health’s SHIP is partnering with the City of Crookston, Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and faculty and students from the University of Minnesota, Crookston and Twin Cities, and local partners including Crookston Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) and Tri-Valley Child Care Resource and Referral in bringing community members together to participate in the design process this summer and will be followed by potential implementation of the nature-based play area this fall. In addition to Crookston, Reese said, a similar Natural Play Space is being envisioned in Warren.
        "Last week we were notified by the Otto Bremer Foundation that we received $35,000 to increase civic engagement while designing/implementing four natural play areas in our eight-county SHIP region (including Crookston) and increase capacity to address future community physical activity needs," she said. "We have applied for research funds through the University of Minnesota Community Collaborative Grant but are still waiting to hear back about this funding."
        Reese said the initiative continues the work emerging from a very successful “Connecting Children and Nature Conference” held on Sept 29, 2010 at the University of Minnesota, Crookston that was funded by the 2010 Challenge grant to Rydell National Wildlife Refuge.   (See summary at  http://umcrookston.edu/childrenandnature)
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        As for the bigger, around $400,000 project that would include a new campground, Red Lake River recreation area and other amenities in Castle Park, City Administrator Aaron Parrish said the city isn't counting on getting word either way until the legislature addresses the Legacy Amendment funding bill, which had not been passed when the 2011 regular legislative session ended. There's a chance it will be brought up again once Gov. Mark Dayton calls legislators back for a special session. State Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston told the Times last week that revisiting the Legacy Amendment funding bill is one of her goals at the special session.
        The bill is pitting greater Minnesota legislators against metro area legislators, as both factions want what they see as a fair share of park funding for the area of the state that they represent.