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Residents toss out ideas on future of Island Park

Landscape architects and planners gathered input on the master plan for Fargo's oldest park from about 50 residents at the first of two engagement meetings.

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Residents look at some options for possibly relocating the Island Park pool at one of the tables set up at the Robert Johnson Recreation Center on Thursday night, Feb. 17, to discuss various aspects to the master plan for the city's oldest park.
Barry Amundson / The Forum
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FARGO — Jeff Sakellson has been going to downtown's Island Park for 60 of its almost 140 years.

He has lots of ideas for the master plan currently being developed for the park's next few decades.

About 50 others also provided input at the first of two Fargo Park District public engagement meetings on the future of the 39-acre park on Thursday night, Feb. 17 at the Robert D. Johnson Recreation Center.

Sakellson, who recalls tobogganing down one of the hills in the park at a young age, said he would like to see the pool moved back to its original, more centrally-located spot, with the current pool area used for an ice skating rink or outdoor amphitheater.

He also believes there should be a shrine or at least some type of recognition to the Northern Pacific Railway, which gave the land to the city in 1884. He would like to see the recognition perhaps be part of a dramatic archway into the park on the north side where it connects to Broadway.

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Hollie Mackey, who had met with the landscape architectural firms during a two-day design workshop prior to Thursday night's meeting, would also like to see an Indigenous peoples touch to the park, noting that many Native American tribes gathered and lived at the site prior to the park being established, as this was a major trade area along the Red River.

She is proposing a sweat lodge with pathways, native plants and a place where Indigenous history can be remembered next to the river and the skateboarding park.

As for the pool, slated to be constructed starting next year, Sakellson isn't the only one that would like to see it relocated.

One of the several landscape architects and planners that visited with residents at tables around the room after a presentation suggested moving the estimated $16 million pool farther south, providing a more central location for a larger concession and bathroom area. Parking lots could then be built on both sides of the pool area, as a study found about 54% of people using the park drive there.

Dave Klundt, the manager of events and aquatics for the park district, said he liked the idea as they could probably leave the current pool open next year while the new pool would be built.

Brett Gurhult, project manager for the study with AGL Landscape Architects of Fargo, said about 350 people have provided input so far on the website at islandpark.mindmixer.com.

When asked in the online survey what their favorite activity is at the park, the No. 1 answer was the enjoyment of the trees and nature at 33%. Next was the pool at 27%, with the walking trails at 14% and social events at 10%.

"The trees are what makes it the most special" to many, Gurhult said.

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He said a 20-member citizen advisory panel is also helping with the master plan. The goals they helped set up for the plan include making sure the park felt welcoming and safe, expanding year-round use with more winter programming, seeking community-wide investment, building a long-term vision focusing on sustainability and historic preservation, connecting the park to the riverfront greenway and bicycle paths and creating more space for events and performances.

One of those current performance spaces, a main feature on the east side of the park, has been the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theater. It has been closed due to damage to its roof and other structural problems.

It's hoped that perhaps the group can establish an outdoor amphitheater for productions in the park. Another option could be a rebuilt, smaller facility for educational programming.

The ideas will continue to flow for the next few months and architects and planners will put together concepts using the input from residents to develop a draft master plan by April to present at another public meeting.

In May, the plan will be reviewed by the citizen advisory committee and approved by the Park Board.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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