MINNETONKA — The city will “take a step back” with one of its latest park ventures — mountain biking — to garner more feedback from residents.
Because of the large amount of concern over the prospect of developing trails for mountain biking within city parks and particularly Big Willow Park, Minnetonka staff has reached out to the community in a new way.
“We’ve used the term ‘reset.’ We are getting input, and we are kind of starting fresh,” said Minnetonka Park Board Chair Nelson Evenrud.
WSB & Associates, a Golden Valley consulting firm hired to conduct a public engagement process for the mountain biking trails study, presented community engagement options to the Park Board.
Residents spoke before the Park Board on Wednesday, Oct. 4, following a presentation by WSB and expressed a number of concerns, including the scope of a feasibility study, how information was going to be shared, as many residents had simply heard about the mountain bike discussion via word of mouth, the Next Door website, some city communications and some signage in parks.
Residents expressed concerns about WSB specifically, asking why it was contracted, how much its contract would cost the city, whether its staff is knowledgeable in projects such as the Minnetonka mountain bike trails and whether, as a design firm, it would be an objective third party.
“WSB is vetted by the City Council and is on the approved contractor’s list for the city. Staff has coordinated with them to be an extension of staff to facilitate the engagement for this project,” said Assistant City Manager Perry Vetter. “The city has in the past used public engagement processes facilitated by public engagement consultants, that is not uncommon. When a project draws this much interest, it’s not uncommon to use the resources of an outside consulting firm.”
Vetter said WSB is an architectural landscape and design company that has no financial interests in building a mountain bike trail and said their $17,450 contract falls within the $130,000 marked for the mountain bike project.
While some residents are supportive of the trail, others are not and some feel they haven’t been kept informed about the city’s plans, other neighbors are supportive of mountain biking and simply don’t think Big Willow is the best location for a trail revamp to accommodate the sport.
“There are a lot of us who are huge supporters of mountain biking, we mountain bike ourselves, our kids and our grandkids mountain bike. We just don’t think Big Willow is the right place,” said resident Carol Allis during the Oct. 4 meeting.
WSB laid out three options at the meeting.
Option 1, which the board chose unanimously with the amended addition of a second public meeting, centers on population-based outreach. This option would include targeting interested parties through focus groups, namely mountain bike enthusiasts and neighbors — both those in favor of and opposed to the trails — who might have questions and concerns about the project.
“I think the second meeting gives another chance for collaboration, especially if it’s built on the first one. I like that option, I like bringing focus groups together,” said Park Board Member Chris Gabler. “I look at this as this is just Step 1 in a multi-step process. This is giving us information and will run in conjunction with the feasibility study.”
Option 2 called for general public meetings and would have included inviting a broad audience to all meetings to achieve the most overall number of people. Option 3 had neighborhood meetings and would have included four geographically based meetings to ensure widespread participation across the city.
City staff will consider several factors as they conduct additional research to present to the Park Board, including locations, feasibility, safety, environmental impact, parking, signage and resident input.
Following a feasibility study — determining which of the over 50 parks in Minnetonka could support mountain bike trails — the Park Board included in its motion the necessity to inform neighborhoods near those parks, as well as anyone who uses the parks regularly, about the mountain bike community meetings.
“I think you need to target people with mailings, and I think you should put signs out in the parks where people go. Hit every option possible to inform the public,” Park Board Member Madeline Seveland said. “If we want this to be successful and we want to make sure people are happy and informed, then that is going to take a significant amount of time.”
Allis said bikers worry whether they are coming too late to the issue.
“I talked to bikers, including my own son, who doesn’t quite understand why you would use such a small park. But there is a lot of feeling that you’ve had the process going and have had a chance to hear from the bikers for a long time, but not from the rest of us, and now suddenly there is a new process that is going to be set up. There is a lot of chance for collaboration to have the mountain bike trail set up properly. There are not a whole bunch of people who don’t want the trails, that’s not true, so the more collaboration, the chance for us to listen to each other I think the better,” Allis said.
Though the schedule hasn’t officially been set for any of the meetings, the city intends to schedule focus group meetings in November and citywide input meetings in December and January.
According to the City of Minnetonka's website, a desire for mountain biking trails was a common theme discovered by the Imagine Minnetonka community visioning process. In June 2017, Trail Source presented the park board with a feasibility study and concept maps for adding mountain biking trails to the city’s Civic Center campus and Big Willow Park.
After reviewing the feasibility study, the Park Board requested staff to study the proposal and review additional locations, including the I-494 corridor.