When Chaska’s Jonathan neighborhood was announced in 1967, Lake Grace was its centerpiece.
Lake Grace, named after Jonathan founder/developer Henry McKnight’s wife, was created by building an earthen dam to hold back the waters of East Chaska Creek.
Gov. Harold LeVander attended the Oct. 11, 1967, dedication of the lake, and the Herald reported. “Next spring Minnesota will have 10,000 lakes plus one.”
For decades, Fourth of July celebrations drew thousands to the lake. Lifeguards kept an eye on swimmers on the sandy beach. At the adjacent pavilion, visitors could check out canoes and buy concessions.
However, time hasn’t been good to the Lake Grace park and pavilion. Weeds sprout up around the shuttered-pavilion. Sumac overgrows the trail down to the park. Weeds, not swimmers, overtake the beach. And the lake itself, currently a shade of slime green, seems to be more of a glorified holding pond than a lake.
The Jonathan Association maintains the park and the primary trail that leads from the Kindergarten Center building to the park.
For the past decade, the Jonathan Association board of directors has been in a state of flux — debating whether to embrace, reduce or disband the homeowners group, home to 8,000 Chaska residents. (The current board seems to fall into the “embrace” category.)
Unfortunately the association’s love/hate pendulum has left the Lake Grace pavilion, beach, and trails in limbo. The lawn is mowed and trash is picked up, but the facilities are falling into disrepair.
Until recently, a Boy Scout troop had planned to take on the restoration project. Now, the Jonathan Association Board is left pondering what to do.
“We’re still in the exploratory phase,” Jonathan Association President David Snodgrass told the newspaper last week. “But we’re open to residents coming down and sharing ideas.”
The park is still integral to Jonathan. With many apartments, townhouses and condominiums lining the lake, it’s in one of the city’s highest density neighborhoods. The city path along the west side of the lake was recently restored and attracts a large number of hikers, joggers, bikers and dog walkers.
It’s a beautiful wooded park on lakefront property — something most towns would die for.
There are visibility and access issues. The lake is mostly hidden from public view, except for southbound drivers on Highway 41. Visitors need to park in the District 112-owned Kindergarten Center lot and walk down a winding path, or park on the residential East Lake Drive and hike along a Jonathan trail to the lake.
The options are not friendly for the physically challenged, elderly or young, and pose great difficulties when hauling in a cooler and picnic supplies.
However, the biggest questions regard the future of the beach and pavilion. Should they be restored or abandoned? Perhaps the pavilion could be replaced with a lower-maintenance picnic shelter (a popular feature at other city parks) with portable toilets.
A Jonathan task force needs to gather input from Jonathan Association members, and use the responses to develop a plan.
The association will need to fork out some substantial money, whatever it decides to do with Lake Grace. However, there are options to lighten the load.
The association should continue to consider partnerships. Building on the Boy Scout idea, what about asking for help from other nonprofits like a regional rowing club? Or for-profit groups like the latest Lake Grace neighbor, Lakeview Medical Clinic? How about a volunteer project during clean-up day?
Given Jonathan’s history, the city of Chaska has been understandably reticent about involving itself in association affairs. However, the city could offer advice and resources. After all, the lake is the city’s responsibility, as is most of adjacent trail system. As it is, the park’s decrepit state reflects poorly on the entire city, not just the association.
In the end, the association is the final authority, and it needs to take charge of its primary park.