The idea of revitalizing and upgrading Granite’s large Memorial Park is becoming a reality, thanks to its state-wide ranking as a regionally significant local park. When the list of the most regionally significant parks in Greater Minnesota, outside the Metro area, was unveiled three years ago by the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Commission, Memorial Park ranked tenth out of the 20 parks on that statewide list.

With that favorable ranking came the possibility, even likelihood, of grant funding from the State of Minnesota, we were encouraged to apply for funding. Two years ago the city received a small but very necessary and much-needed grant that outlined a plan and scope of work of what should, and could, be done at the park. The plan highlighted Memorial Park’s many attributes and outlined how this wonderful park can continue to be an asset for the community and the region now and for many years into the future.

That plan has been the foundation for a new vision for the park and its use over the next two or three generations. With good input from a local citizen’s committee, the plan identified priorities and phases of work that could be accomplished and could fit into state grant funding cycles.

Working with the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission (RDC) and consulting landscape architects Damon Farber Associates, we submitted a grant application for the first phase of work several months ago and were awarded around $600,000, with a 10 percent match from the city. The work funded by the grant includes much-needed repair to the roof and overhang on the iconic large shelter house and a new, relocated restroom/shower building, a re-design of the park’s south entrance area and a safer pedestrian crossing area on Highway 67 near the shelter house. The city council recently approved a bid by local contractor Edman Builders for this first phase of work. That work will get underway soon and is scheduled for substantial completion by mid-November.

While we were finalizing plans for that first phase of work, the city, again with the RDC and Damon Farber, applied for and received just over $861,000 in state funding for a second phase of work in the park. The city is committed to a 15 percent match for this phase of work, which is slated to begin later this year. It will include significant removal of invasive plant species in the park, including buckthorn, poison ivy and other invasive species. Other phase two work will follow in 2019 and will include moving the present RV campground, redesigning the current campground area into a day-use area for picnicking, new playground equipment, improved hiking trails and new signage.

The city has also authorized a grant application for a third phase of work, which is anticipated to be in the neighborhood of $900,000, with a ten percent match of additional funds from the city. That application is due to be submitted by July 31 and will include further restorative work on the large shelter house, park entrance signing and interpretive signing, ecological restoration where invasive plants were removed in phase two, additional playground improvements, river access improvements and group campground improvements. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that funding of phase three is approved. The statewide competition for this funding is stiff.

Meanwhile, we are looking at plans for further park improvements in our proposed phase four and phase five. These would including more trail development, additional ecological restoration work, scenic overlook work, cattail removal and pond upgrades, more signage accessibility needs and other improvements.

Of course, this all costs money, including some of the city’s own funds. However, with just a small percentage of local funds, we have an uncommon opportunity to make these once-in-a lifetime improvements to this beautiful and unique 95-acre park. It’s truly our time to do this. We look forward to watching the transformation of Memorial Park over the next few years. 

It was good to see the YME school board make the decision to hire a full-time superintendent. The board, over the past few months, worked hard at scoping this important position and interviewing candidates. It was nice to read the recent news that the school board has hired Richard Schneider as the district’s new full-time CEO.

Several area school districts have toyed with the idea of sharing their top leadership position, effectively having a part-time leader. I’m no fan of the multi-site management concept. While there is certainly some money to be saved by sharing a position with another district, those savings can, and often do, evaporate very quickly when there is a lack of full-time everyday leadership. That small savings can come at a great expense and often results in a net loss. It’s hard to quantify the opportunities that slip by when there isn’t a full-time leader at the top. It’s also hard to keep any organization focused on its mission and goals when there isn’t someone leading it full-time.

The YME school district is a multi-million dollar operation with many employees and the all-important task of educating our kids. We need, and deserve, to have plenty of attention paid to that important job. Having a full time leader who has his or her hands on the steering wheel and is also looking out for the long-term best interests of the district seemed like the only way to go.

The YME school board should be commended for their work and their vision with this. It may be the board members’ most important decision. We want to offer our welcome to new YME Superintendent, Richard Schneider.