Archive for the ‘Minneapolis parks’ Category

Park Progress: 100 Years of Engines, Wheels, Automobiles and Metropolitan Parks

Writing one hundred years ago this week, then Minneapolis park board president Edmund Phelps, made several observations in the park board’s annual report for 1912 that attracted my attention.

“I notice in the Board’s report, especially between 1894 and 1900, frequent references to our bicycle paths and the very general use of the bicycle itself. It will be remembered that at one time there was great agitation for fine bicycle paths upon all main thoroughfares. During the last few years there has been nothing said in the reports and there has been no attention paid to keeping up bicycle paths for the reason that the use of the wheel, unfortunately, was very largely diminished.”

This is one of my favorite park photos. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet in 1896. Notice that the layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

This is one of my favorite park photos. It first appeared in the Minneapolis park board’s 1896 annual report. It shows bicycle paths around Lake Harriet created that year. The layout of walking path, bicycle path and carriage way, there were no cars yet, is almost identical to today. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The “wheel,” as Phelps called the bicycle, has made quite a comeback. Bicycle riders were generally called “wheel men” then although as this picture demonstrates riding bicycles was not strictly a male pursuit. Perhaps most remarkable however, despite the fact that today you could spend more on a bicycle than the park board paid for Lake Calhoun, the basic concept of the bicycle has not changed at all: two wheels on a connecting frame, pedals, seat, handlebars—and a dog out for exercise.

Another thematically related passage from Phelps’s 1912 report is worth noting.

“We ought not to mow forty acres of lawn at Lake of the Isles by handpower, but the best power lawn mowers, such as are used by parks and country clubs, should be provided, as they facilitate the work and reduce greatly the expense per acre.”

I have no idea if Phelps was a stockholder in The Toro Company.

Greater Grand Rounds

Finally, Phelps recommended an idea that was not new, but was placed in an automotive context I haven’t seen before. Writing thirty years after the creation of the park board, Phelps looked thirty years into the future and foresaw,

“Two or three trunk lines of excellent highway will connect the eastern and western extremities of our great country. Good roads of high class construction will prevail throughout every state of the Union. While these state roads should and will  radiate from the large cities of the commonwealths, yet all will connect in a nearly direct line with the nearest transcontinental highway.”

Combining the development of good roads for automobiles with his prediction that there would be more than a million people in the Twin Cities in thirty years (1943), Phelps wrote,

“Long before that time the boulevard system of the two cities should be extended so as to make one ‘Greater Grand Rounds’ of one hundred miles or more.”

Phelps then described a parkway system that followed Minnehaha Creek to Lake Minnetonka, around that lake, then south from Excelsior to Shakopee, down the Minnesota River valley and its “enchanting scenery” to Fort Snelling, through St. Paul to and around White Bear Lake, then to Anoka and the Mississippi River, passing many beautiful lakes on the way,” then back to Minneapolis along the river. Phelps concluded,

“I am sure that a boulevard similar to the one suggested eventually will be built. An enabling act should be prepared and presented to the Legislature at the present session, and passed, so that the work may be prosecuted later.”

The parkway Phelps recommended was never authorized or built, but parks have been acquired along much of the route he suggested.

The First Automobile Ordinance

Phelps vision of automobiles, transcontinental highways and “Greater Grand Rounds” is not surprising given his early adoption of the automobile himself.

Phelps first appearance before the park board, more than a year before he was elected to be a park commissioner, was on behalf of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis. On May 7, 1903 Phelps requested permission for the club to have an automobile hill-climbing contest on the steep hill on Kenwood Parkway near Spring Lake. Hill-climbing contests were an early form of car racing, seeing whose car could climb a steep hill in the shortest time. As an inducement for approval of the club’s request perhaps, Phelps invited park commissioners and friends to attend the contest and afterwards be given a ride by automobile around the parkways.

1903 Model A Ford

1903 Model A Ford. It also came in a two-seat version. It was manufactured only in red. It had a top speed of 28 mph. (americanfords.com)

Phelps’s request for use of the parkway was approved, but he may have gotten more than he bargained for.  Immediately following approval of his request, the board directed the Privileges and Entertainments Committee to meet with the City Council Committee on Ordinances to develop an ordinance governing the use of automobiles in parks.

The park board subsequently passed an automobile ordinance on June 20, 1903. The ordinance restricted automobile speeds to 15 miles per hour, required that each car powered by gasoline have a muffler, that each car have a bell or horn, and a have at least one lighted lamp if operated after dark. In addition,

“Every person operating an automobile shall stop upon request or signal from any person in charge of a horse or horses, and shall also stop whenever a horse or horses show signs of fright at the automobile.”

Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance was subject to a fine of $2-$100 and, if in default of payment of a fine, imprisonment in the City Work House for a period of up to 90 days.

To give you some idea of how new cars were at the time, the Ford Motor Company was incorporated only four days before the park board’s automobile ordinance was passed in June 1903 and Ford’s first three Model A’s were manufactured the next month
. The success of those vehicles is still evident in Minneapolis where we refer to the Ford Dam and Ford Bridge, named for their proximity to and relationship with the Ford assembly plant in St Paul. The construction of the Ford Bridge made Minnehaha Park easily accessible to St. Paulites.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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Is that a lake?

This photo illustrates the difficult history of Diamond Lake. It doesn’t look like a lake at all — and it might not have been. The 1938 annual report of the park board refers to “the dry lake bed at present.”

Diamond Lake, center, looking northwest. Pearl Park is upper right and the future Todd Park at center right. Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun are near horizon. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Diamond Lake, center, looking northwest. Pearl Park is upper right and the future Todd Park at center right. Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun are near horizon. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

I recently received an email from a reader who lives near Diamond Lake who commented on the differences in how Diamond Lake is treated from other Minneapolis lakes in that there is no hiking or bicycle trail all the way around it. Many perceive the west shore to be private property. In fact, the entire lakeshore is park property. The photo above is undated, but I think it was shot in the 1940s. According to Hennepin County property records, the houses on the east side of Pearl Park were built in 1938.

At this time Todd Park — the dark area north of 57th Street at Portland — was referred to simply as the “east swamp.” It was dedicated as a “park” on the plat of the neighborhood, but it was, on average, 12 feet below the grades of surrounding streets.

Filling and grading Pearl Lake. View looking west near 54th St. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Filling and grading Pearl Lake. View looking west from near 54th St. and Portland Avenue, likely taken about 1936. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Pearl Lake was filled in 1936-37, with dirt from extensive runway excavation and construction at Minneapolis Municipal Airport, which the park board owned and operated at the time. The runway construction and lake filling were both WPA projects. About 200 men and 75 trucks were assigned to the project in 1936. About one foot of peat was peeled off the old lake bed, a couple feet of airport fill smoothed over the skinned landscape, and the peat reinstalled as a top coat.

In the 1938 annual report of the park board, superintendent Christian Bossen wrote that Diamond Lake had almost dried up in the 1920s due to development and low rainfall, but, “With the separation of the storm water drainage from the sanitary sewers, the City Engineer is now using and expects to use to a greater extent Diamond Lake as a storm water reservoir.”

The 1938 annual report contains a detailed description of what the park board hoped to accomplish around Diamond Lake. It  provides the details of an important chapter in the history of the lake and the neighborhood.

David C. Smith

Delineators in Minneapolis Park Plans

When the park board employed its first full-time engineers it’s likely that those engineers also did the drafting or “delineating” of the plans for new parks. The assumption is supported by the attributions on the first plans published in Minneapolis park board annual reports that included someone’s name other than that of Theodore Wirth, who became superintendent of parks in 1906. In the 1908 and 1909 annual reports, the park system’s two engineers, A. C. Godward and W. E. Stoopes, were cited as both engineer and delineator and no other delineators were credited. There may have been none.

Brief biographical sketches of Godward and Stoopes are provided in a previous post on Engineers, so I’ll begin with the first delineator who was never cited as an “engineer” on a park plan. That man was…

I. Kvitrud. I haven’t even discovered his first name. (Note 11/29: Thanks to an anonymous tip, which I’ve confirmed, I learned that Mr. Kvitrud’s first name was Ingwald. Thanks, “T”. For the Google spiders, that’s Ingwald Kvitrud!) Kvitrud was identified as the delineator of three park plans in 1910 and 1912. He was an engineering graduate of the University of Minnesota and served as an officer of the Minnesota Engineering Society in 1910 and 1912. He was hired in 1914 as a full-time instructor in Drawing and Geometry at his alma mater and he was still employed there in 1919, his annual salary having increased in five years from $900 to $1500, according to University records.

The most interesting reference I’ve found to Kvitrud was in an article in the San Francisco Call, July 19, 1913. In a story datelined Minneapolis, Kvitrud was identified as the Minneapolis park board clerk in charge of selling material from the demolition of buildings for a park at The Gateway. Read more

Engineers in Minneapolis Park Plans

I was curious about the people who created the park plans I featured in the Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, 1906-1935, which was presented in three installments recently (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3). The catalog identifies all the plans and drawings published in Minneapolis park board annual reports during the tenure of Theodore Wirth as Minneapolis’s park superintendent.

I’ve tried to piece together info on the men whose names appear on those plans as engineers or delineators using park board reports, newspaper archives, and miscellaneous documents found through online searches. I’m not aware of any other background information at the park board on the early engineering and planning staff.

The park board engineering staff about 1915 in their 4th floor offices in City Hall. From left: Alfred C. Godward, Charles E. Doell, Clyde Peterson, Herman Olson, Dick Butler, “Spud” Huxtable, “Spike” Miller and Al Berthe. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

The man whose name appears on almost all of the plans, Theodore Wirth, superintendent of parks, is already well-known. Most of the others, much less so—although two of them, Charles Doell and Harold Lathrop, became very well-known nationally as park administrators.

During that time, the park board employed no “landscape architects.” The profession was still relatively new. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was founded in 1898 and the first university programs in the field were created at Harvard and MIT around the turn of the century. This was after the first generation of true landscape architects in the United States, led by Frederick Law Olmsted and H W. S. Cleveland, had already passed from the scene. Cleveland had been the Minneapolis park board’s advisor and landscape architect from the creation of the park board in 1883, and had helped define the profession in this country. The park board had also hired landscape architect Warren Manning on a few occasions from 1899-1904 to provide advice and park plans after Cleveland retired.

Theodore Wirth was likely hired as park superintendent in Minneapolis in part because he had some experience designing parks in Hartford, Conn. He is credited with the designs of Colt and Elizabeth parks in Hartford. (Early in Wirth’s time in Hartford, the landscape architect role was filled by the Olmsted Brothers, the firm run by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted. The senior Olmsted was a native of Hartford.) Wirth certainly played the role of landscape architect in Minneapolis, but I’m not aware of him ever calling himself one. He was active in the American Institute of Park Executives, and its predecessor organizations, but never ASLA. For ten years, 1925-1934, Wirth’s name appears on park plans as “Sup’t & Engineer” even though he did not have a formal engineering credential—apart from a course at a technical school in his native Switzerland as a young man. That course may have focused more on gardening than engineering. His first jobs were as a gardener. I could only guess at Wirth’s reasons for taking the “Engineer” title on park plans for the first time at age 62.

During his long tenure in Minneapolis, Wirth built a staff of men with Civil Engineering degrees—all from the University of Minnesota—not landscape architecture degrees or training. The first landscape architect hired full-time by the park board was Felix Dhainin in 1938. (If anyone could tell us more about Dhainin, I’d appreciate it.)

Here’s what I learned about the engineers for the park board 1906-1935. I’ll get to the draftsmen and delineators in a later post. Turns out the most interesting of all the park board engineers wasn’t featured in annual report plans at all! Read on

Those Darn Cars!

“It is the sense of this Board that the practice of tooting Automobile horns, by way of applause, at the concerts given in the parks should be discontinued.”

Motion proposed by park commissioner Charles M. Loring and adopted by the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, June 18, 1906.

A Railroad Town

To reinforce recent articles that addressed the dominance of railroads and mills along the Minneapolis riverfront, I found these photos from about 1920 to be fascinating. Both are from the photo collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, a fabulous resource for understanding how our city and state came to be. The collection includes other aerial photos by Paul W. Hamilton of Minneapolis and St. Paul from the same time. They’re worth a look.

The west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looking downriver from above St. Anthony Falls. Nicollet Island is far left, the Stone Arch Bridge upper left in about 1921 (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

North Minneapolis at Plymouth and Washington looking east toward the Mississippi River and Plymouth Bridge in background. Railroads consumed a lot of land in about 1920 on the west bank. (Paul W. Hamilton, Minnesota Historical Society)

When you look at these pictures it’s obvious why the Civic Commission and the park board were interested in reclaiming the riverfront 100 years ago.

David C. Smith

Pushball at Powderhorn

Does anyone remember “pushball”? This photo was taken at Powderhorn Park, but the date isn’t marked. It looks like a fair number of kids were left standing and watching.

This is “Pushball.” The apartments in the background appear to be those on Powderhorn Terrace just north of the park. Date unknown. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Any guesses on the date?

Do you remember any other playground games that aren’t played anymore? Got pictures?

David C. Smith

Low River Redux

The dry weather this year is evident on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. A couple weeks ago I posted an aerial photo of St. Anthony Falls when it was very dry in 1955. The water levels on the river appear to be similar now. Larry Dillehay sent this photo taken on the afternoon of October 2. The concrete apron at the Falls isn’t quite dry, but there’s not enough water flowing to make a ripple at the bottom. The horseshoe dam above the falls is now completely out of the water. What a gorgeous day—again.

St. Anthony Falls in a very dry year, as seen from the Stone Arch Bridge, October 2, 2012. (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

Horseshoe dam exposed, with Nicollet Island in background. From 3rd Avenue Bridge just upriver from St. Anthony Falls, October 2, 2012 (Photo: Larry Dillehay)

David C. Smith

Postscript: Both the horseshoe dam and Lock and Dam #1, or Ford Dam, were repaired while the water was at this level, suggesting that while the summer had been very dry, the water levels had been lowered intentionally by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate mainteneance.

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans: Volume III, 1926-1935

The thirty annual reports produced while Theodore Wirth was superintendent of parks in Minneapolis—1906-1935—were rich in detail and illustrations. Those reports included 328 plans, designs and maps of parks and park structures. The publication of those plans usually coincided with the acquisition or development of new properties or the improvement of older ones, so they are a good guide to where to find some discussion of those park properties in annual reports or proceedings. So, long ago I catalogued all of those plans in one document to create a searchable guide to park development during those years. I have relied on that list for the last few years and assumed other researchers and park lovers would find it useful as well.  I’ve already posted the first twenty years worth of plans, and today is Volume III, 1926-1935.

Detail of a plan published in the 1912 annual report showing a proposed canoe house on a peninsula in Lake Harriet. (1912 Annual Report, Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners)

The plans published in annual reports were not the only plans created by the park board staff in the years Wirth was superintendent of parks. They are mostly conceptual plans, rather than working plans. The park board requested many of the plans specifically as park commissioners considered various park proposals and possibilities.

The number of employees in the park board’s engineering department are not published in every annual report, but in most years for which that info is provided, it appears that one or two draftsmen were employed. A few of their names appear as “Delineator” or “Del.” on the plans. Sometime in the near future, I’ll provide a guide to some of the names of the people who helped prepare plans.

The titles of the plans are verbatim as they appear on plans. I’ve also copied dates, names and titles as they appear, but have added some punctuation to make them easier to read. Parenthetical comments identify current park names or mention important plan elements.

The annual reports from 1931 to 1935 were not typeset in order to cut costs during the Depression. The reports also contained very few plans or illustrations, not just to reduce printing costs, but because the park board had no money to spend on improving parks. Continue reading

Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans: Volume II, 1916-1925

A few days ago I published the first installment (1906-1915) of a Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans presented in the annual reports of the Minneapolis park board while Theodore Wirth was superintendent of Minneapolis parks (1906-1935). Today I publish the second installment of plans and drawings in annual reports covering 1916-1925.

Along with this “volume” I want to add a dedication and explanation: I am publishing this list of plans for anyone to use, like the rest of the research I have posted here, partly out of my interest in the  subject and our civic history. But I also want to acknowledge former park superintendent Jon Gurban’s role in my research. When Jon informed me in early 2007 that I had been selected to write the history of the first 125 years of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board—the book City of Parks was the result—he had one request. He asked that, in addition to writing the book, I would share with park board staff and him other useful, important and interesting information that I uncovered in my research. While conducting research just to write my book proposal that winter, I had found several items that I had brought to his attention that I thought were fascinating. He said that my enthusiasm for those finds and my willingness to share them were factors in me getting the assignment.

So this Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans is published with a nod to Jon Gurban, in my experience an honorable man treated dishonorably by some with whom he shared a passion for Minneapolis parks.

This plan for the Minnehaha Stone Quarry from the 1919 annual report is representative of the plans listed below. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Remember that many of the plans presented in annual reports were conceptual plans and many were not implemented or were revised extensively. Most of the plans were created by park superintendent Theodore Wirth, with exceptions as noted. It would be a mistake, however, to assume  because Wirth created the plans that the ideas for the parks also came from him. Some of the plans grew from Wirth’s own vision, while many other plans were requested by the park board or were concepts that had been bouncing around for some years.

This catalog will be most useful for park planners and historians, but also provides many insights into our park system for casual observers or fans of particular parks. After I publish the last third of the catalog (soon), I’ll provide a bit of information on the various individuals who are credited on these plans—as well as some others who weren’t given credit.

The titles of the plans are verbatim as they appear on plans. I’ve also copied dates, names and titles as they appear, but have added some punctuation to make them easier to read. Parenthetical comments identify current park names or mention important plan elements. /s/ indicates a signature.

A quick explanatory note: 1925 was the first year that Theodore Wirth added “engineer” to his title on park plans. That doesn’t indicate a new credential for Wirth, but the departure of A.C. Godward as the park board’s engineer. Godward had taken the job of Engineer for Minneapolis’s new City Planning Department in June 1922, but continued to supervise engineering at the park board, too. When Godward left the park board completely in 1925, his assistant, A. E. Berthe, kept the title Assistant Engineer and Wirth took the Engineer title himself. Despite Wirth’s praise for Berthe’s work, and Berthe being listed in annual reports as “head” of the engineering department, he remained the Asst Engr to Wirth until 1935, when Berthe was listed as Park Engineer or Civil Engineer and Wirth as General Superintendent.

Go to Catalog of Minneapolis Park Plans, 1916-1925

Now That’s a Teeter Totter!

I don’t know where or when this photo was taken, but this is how they used to do it in Minneapolis parks. This is how above-average kids used to play. Kid-powered thrill rides provided the adrenaline rush. And there isn’t a single teeter-totter crash helmet in sight — unless that girl has padding in her bow.

I’ve read every Attorney’s Report in park board annual reports, as well as all attorney reports in park board proceedings since 1904, when playground quipment was first installed in Minneapolis parks, and I don’t recall seeing even one report of a lawsuit over injuries on teeter-totters—or any other playground apparatus. Maybe there were no injuries and it was simply the fear of injuries that caused the teeter-totters to be taken down—or scaled down. It’s been years since I’ve seen one. Do they still exist?

Compare this to the two newest playgrounds in Minneapolis parks at Beard Plaisance and William Berry Park near the Lake Harriet Bandstand. Nice, and big improvements, but pretty tame. My favorite playground equipment is still the stuff at Brackett. First they had the Rocket, and now they have innovative equipment that’s quite unlike other parks.

More importantly, how did moms keep those dresses so white?

If you recognize the location above, or can guess the year, please send a note.

David C. Smith

Snowmobiles in Minneapolis Parks: 1967

Do you remember snowmobiles in 1967? I remember them as loud, smelly, uncomfortable and, by today’s standards, horribly unwieldy. Not what you’d expect to find in pristine city parks. But they were very trendy then—the latest and coolest—and Minneapolis parks have always tried to keep up with what was new and in-demand in recreational opportunities. On December 13, 1967 the park board approved establishing a snowmobile course on Meadowbrook Golf Course and renting snowmobiles there.

My snowmobile memories were prompted by the park board’s current interest in allowing snowmobiles on Wirth Lake in Minneapolis as part of a snowmobile convention this winter. I found some 1967 photos of snowmobiles at Meadowbrook a while back and scanned them just because they represented a moment in time for me.

Snowmobiles for rent at Meadowbrook Golf Course in 1967. (MPRB)

I watched the Vikings Super Bowl IV loss as part of a football/snowmobile party on a farm near Hutchinson in January 1970. (Many farmers in the area were pioneers in snowmobiling, encouraged by the farm implement companies—and their local dealers—that initially invested in the technology. It gave the companies and dealers something to sell year round.) Maybe the Vikings’ embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that day tainted my perception of snowmobiles, too; I developed a slight, queasy aversion to them, recalling Hank Stram’s infuriating smirk and bad toupee every time I saw one.

But the snowmobile photos on this page piqued my curiosity for a couple of reasons. One, I couldn’t remember the company “Boatel” or their “Ski-Bird” from my youth. Turns out it was a boat manufacturer in Mora, Minn. that acquired a snowmobile company, the Abe Matthews Company of Hibbing, to broaden its product line. The company apparently manufactured most of the machine, but installed an off-the-shelf engine.

For more information on the Boatel Ski-Birds visit snowmobilemuseum.com and vintage snowmobiles.

The second intriguing aspect of the photo above is the decal on the right front of the machine, “Bird is the word.” In the few photos I’ve found online of the machines — Boatel stopped manufacturing them by 1972 — none of the Ski-Birds have that tagline on them.

If you are of a certain age, or a huge fan of Minneapolis rock-and-roll history, or a Family Guy devotee, you know the line is most famous from a song by The Trashmen in 1963.

Cover photo of Minneapolis surf rockers The Trashmen from their Bird Dance Beat album, their follow-up to Surfin’ Bird. Steve Wahrer (front) was responsible for the raspy vocal on Surfin’ Bird.

The Minneapolis surf-rock band’s Surfin’ Bird, their first record, climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been covered by numerous groups, from The Ramones to Pee Wee Herman. (See Wahrer performing the song on American Bandstand and being interviewed by Dick Clark. The show wouldn’t pay travel costs for all four band members, so Wahrer performed alone. It must have been odd for him to perform that way because he was the band’s drummer.) It’s a hard song to forget, which was reinforced by its use in a Family Guy episode in 2008 that introduced it to new generations.

I wonder if Boatel bought the rights to the lyric for its Ski-Bird. Surfin’ Bird was based on two songs by The Rivingtons and although The Trashmen significantly reworked them, The Rivingtons, a LA vocal group, were given songwriting credit. So if Boatel did pay rights to use the line, The Trashmen probably didn’t collect anything from it.

I don’t know if these are customers renting snowmobiles or park board employees at Meadowbrook Golf Course. (MPRB)

The park board’s 1968 annual report noted that “ski sleds” were rented at “various wintertime locations.” I was surprised to learn from the 1968 annual report that it was also the first year electric golf carts were used on any Minneapolis park golf course; they were also first rented at Meadowbrook. So snowmobiles beat golf carts onto park board golf courses by a few months. The contract for 13 snowmobiles and 6 snowmobile sleds for rental was won by the Elmer N. Olson Company.

Golf carts and snowmobiles weren’t the only attractions added to parks in 1968 in hopes of generating new revenue. Pedal boats were added to Loring Lake, an electric tow rope was installed in the Theodore Wirth Park ski area, and construction began on a miniature sternwheeler paddle boat to carry 35-40 passengers at a time on rides through Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun.

A constant in the 129-year history of the Minneapolis park board has been the search for new revenues to support an expensive park system. If given a choice between snowmobiles in the city and good food at well-run restaurants in parks, such as now exist in three locations and will be joined by a new food service at Lake Nokomis next year, I’d chose the food. Blame the Kansas City Chiefs.

I haven’t found any record of rental rates for the snowmobiles the first year, but in January 1969 the park board approved a rental rate of $3.64 per 1/2 hour (plus 3% sales tax!) for park board snowmobiles and a charge of $1.25/hour or $3.75/day for the use of private snowmobiles on the Meadowbrook course.

I wonder if the Meadowbrook greenskeeper liked snowmobiles on the course with so little snow. (MPRB)

A more contentious issue was a park ordinance passed in early January 1968 that permitted, but regulated, the use of snowmobiles on Minneapolis lakes and parks. By November 1970, before a third snowmobiling season could begin, some residents had apparently had their fill of snowmobiles in the city and the park board considered banning the use of snowmobiles on park property, including the lakes. Park Commissioner Leonard Neiman, who represented southwest Minneapolis, proposed rescinding the ordinance that allowed snowmobiling, which suggests that residents near Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun might have led the opposition. The board did not vote to eliminate snowmobiling from parks at that time, but it did reduce the speed limit for snowmobiles — from 25 to 20 mph — and added a noise-control provision that mandated mufflers. It also directed staff to consider which parks or lakes snowmobiles would be permitted to use. The decision to lower the speed limit on snowmobiles in parks was credited in 1979 (12/19 Proceedings) with essentially eliminating snowmobile permit applications. None had been received since 1972.

Sometime between 1979 and 2002 the park board made slow snowmobiling even less appealing by setting the price for an annual snowmobile permit at $350. Pokey and pricey wasn’t a big sale. The board voted in 2002 to eliminate snowmobiling permits altogether, because no one had applied for one in many years.

The park board proposes now to charge $1,000 a day for permitting snowmobiles (does that cover multiple machines?) to use Wirth Lake during a convention that MEET Minneapolis estimates will bring $1 million to the city this winter. Sounds like a reasonable trade-off to me — especially because snowmobiles have changed so much since 1970, and so few residences are within earshot of Wirth Lake anyway

Finally, here’s your cocktail party trivia for this week. One of only four survivors of the raft of companies that competed for snowmobile market share in the late 1960s is Bombardier, the Canadian makers of Ski-Doo. The company is now 50% owned by Bain Capital of presidential campaign fame. Of course, two of Ski-Doo’s biggest competitors are Arctic Cat and Polaris, both based in Minnesota.

I wonder if any of the Trashmen ever rented a “Bird is the word”  snowmobile at Meadowbrook.

Papa-oom-mow-mow.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith