A former Crookston Parks & Recreation director, Ray Ecklund, shared his concerns with the Park Board Monday citing Travis Oliver’s recent opinion page submission in the Times about proposed in-fill housing for the area where the softball diamonds are currently at Highland Park.
Ecklund, who was the first full-time Parks & Rec director and also City Administrator for many years, designed the layout of Highland Park and received grants to build it. Ecklund said he was concerned after seeing a rendered photo in the Times with in-fill housing in what is now a city park.
“I spent a great deal of time on Highland Park,” Ecklund explained. “It’s one of the finest facilities for regional athletics.”
“Certainly that facility (Highland Park) helps with our quality of life,” he added. “I encourage the Park Board to defend all of our parks. It doesn’t make sense to build houses there; only in the most dire of circumstances.”
Ecklund went on to say there is land for houses by the Crookston Sports Center, near where Oliver suggested a new softball complex would go, and that local developer Bob Herkenhoff has a housing project in the works as well.
“I will defend it (Highland Park) to the last drop to keep it a park so it continues to be an asset to the community,” Ecklund continued.
Current Parks & Rec Director Scott Riopelle commented saying, along the lines of state or federal grants, he wondered if there were any clauses that the property at Highland Park had to remain a park. Riopelle added that, eventually, they’ll have to add a park by the CSC so that users have a place to play but did not go into details on what that might consist of.
Speaking on what some have said is a “lack of use” at Highland Park’s softball diamonds, Ecklund suggested the city have a vision of where they’re going with the park and come up with ideas to “make it an asset again.”
“Who is to say that softball won’t come back again?” Ecklund asked rhetorically. “Thousands of youngsters have played on it; it’s a fine facility and Crookston should be proud of it.”
Parks & Rec Supervisor Scott Butt echoed Ecklund’s comments saying they have people coming from all over for baseball and they’re “amazed” at Highland Park’s current complex.
“A lot of this goes back to Ray’s vision,” Butt explained. “We’re extremely lucky to have that complex.”
Background on Oliver’s opinion submission
Oliver’s June 2019 letter to the editor asked why Crookston has not “done more to look at residential growth to market to the people that could work in all the new facilities going up” and proposed a new softball complex near the CSC built to meet the specifications to host regional and state tournaments which is something “we cannot do now because our current fields are too small with no room to expand.”
Oliver suggested 40 lots for in-fill housing in the current Highland Park area as the “few lots in the middle of the field by Drafts are not desirable with anyone who has any building sense.”
He added that an outdoor pool could be constructed where Diamond 1 sits currently next to the Splash Park and playground.
“So the city gets 40 new housing lots, a new 4-6 diamond complex and a location for a future outdoor pool, is this something we should look into?” Oliver wondered.