Lebanon Hills Regional Park development plan – a stakeholder’s view

by James E. Jenkins
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

What makes a great park? I guess this question depends on who you ask.

In 2001 that question was asked and was answered in a new Lebanon Hills Regional Park Master Plan created by many hours of input by a stakeholders task force consisting of 13 park users and 13 representatives from affected surrounding municipalities. This plan was adopted by the Dakota County commissioners in 2001. The overarching vision of this plan was to create a balance between ecological preservation/rehabilitation, including water management, development to support the natural environment and new land acquisition.

The vision also included primary emphasis on the fact that this park is unique and is not planned to provide all activities for all citizens. It is to be preserved as a natural experience and should be maintained in a natural condition with only the necessary facilities to support this natural environment. When the commissioners adopted the 2001 plan, they were solidly in favor of this vision. They must know that their current plan is not consistent with this vision.

The vision, intent and details of the 2001 Master Plan have clearly been violated and the new development plan is rapidly moving in an entirely different direction. It is now being planned to be a park that is all things to all people. The so called “public input” process has reinforced the vision of the 2001 plan. The vast majority of the public input comments have been dramatically in favor of maintaining & rehabilitating the natural environment and are against the hard surface trail / hubs coming to the park and the hard surface trail penetrating through the center of the park.

Yet the new development plan ignores that input. Most people do not realize the impact of the cut and fill, damage to the vegetation, additional water runoff and erosion, and the ongoing maintenance cost that these new trails will cause The Dakota County Parks Department and commissioners claim that this new direction is consistent with the 2001 plan.

How can that be? How can they think that the stakeholders task force would have developed a plan that allowed this much latitude for hard development? What is their motivation?

It seems to me it would have been a much more honest approach, if the commissioners would simply have said: “Look, we have changed our minds and our vision for the park. We think it should be a great park, by a revised definition and not a unique park. It should be for everyone and all activities.” Would most of the stakeholders agree? No, but at least it would be a straightforward position by the county and we could continue trying to move the emphasis back to the natural vision and intent of the majority of the park users.

I hope that the county commissioners will rethink their position and honor the intent of the 2001 Master Plan. Too many parks nationally have already been ruined by over development, destroying the very reason users loved them. As a county we have the opportunity to be unique and preserve this 2000-acre gem in our community to be enjoyed for future generations. I hope we take advantage of this opportunity, make a bold decision and do what’s right.

James E. Jenkins, of Apple Valley, was a member of the 2001 Lebanon Hills Regional Park Stakeholders Task Force. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.