By Steve Kotvis,  a 40-year resident of Minneapolis, 38 of which have been located within a couple blocks of Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in the Kenwood and Bryn Mawr neighborhoods. Steve is an active volunteer Park Steward and has a blog dedicated to Ecological Restoration of Cedar Lake Point.

The final opportunity for public comment on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Cedar-Isles Plan closes on March 10. The draft plan is long in pages, but short on attention to priorities voiced by many involved with the almost three-year long planning process: Take care of nature and fix what we’ve got before elaborate investments in new things.

The draft plan offers volume and depth in detailed designs that address access, circulation, amenities and programming, but is faint and shallow in voicing the resounding message that the City of Lakes park system is based on a foundation of our natural resources. Fresh water, woodlands, grasslands, wildlife, and a network of neighborhood parks are uniquely special to our city. Protecting and nurturing nature must be a top priority.  Ecological restoration starts with a process of removing cutting and uprooting invasive species and continues with planting and nurturing native seeds, seedlings and young trees. Managing invasive species is ongoing.

A yet to be managed area on the north shore of Cedar Lake. Photo by Steve Kotvis.

The draft plan doesn’t acknowledge the decline and dying of the native forest and the consuming threat that Buckthorn and other invasive species impose. Lacking much expertise or effort in the planning process that searched far and wide for public input, the draft plan brushed over detailing issues regarding natural areas. It turned a deaf ear to local residents who tried to speak for the suffering habitat. It actually marginalizes local residents who spoke up, literally referring to them as “loud.” It spun an imagery of natural areas suffering from ages of neglect and mismanagement, referring to them as “wilded.” “Wilded” in this case is used to describe an area where the local habitat is dying from the infestation of Buckthorn, where biodiversity is shrinking, where the Park Board staff limits volunteers’ removal of Buckthorn to stabilize eroding shorelines, and where the plan fails to acknowledge much less address the needs to assume a leadership role and investment in rescuing and managing natural resources.

This is just one of many stacks of Buckthorn that has been collected, from trees I cut down. Photo by Steve Kotvis

Instead of separating the wheat from the chaff, the urgent needs from the niceties, the draft plan is noncommittal to and includes an abundance of site designs, including 14 new formalized water access points and two new formalized viewing spots to Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles to enhance access. In the name of circulation, it paints new bike lanes on parkways, and etches new soft-paved two-way bike lanes through East Cedar woods. This bike path design is blind to the fact that it splits the tree uprights, just where volunteers are targeting the protection of keystone trees and where the Cedar Lake Park Association volunteers have been investing time, funds and energies over decades to plant a spiral of trees to create a quiet natural Memorial Grove. The bike path is redundant and devastating in disturbing an already tenable natural area, with marginal benefit for biking. After all, to the east within a biker’s eyesight is the already established parallel paved Kenilworth Regional Bike Trail.

The planners need to hear from the public that as written, the draft plan can’t see the forest for the trees. It needs to explicitly state for those who follow in implementing its menu of projects, that in reality there exists a hierarchy of needs. The most urgent need is to remove and manage the destructive invasive species before they kill all of the native trees and local habitat. The Park Board should take a leadership role, rather than continuing to relegate the vast majority of this effort to volunteers. The Park Board’s tendency to lay out an arrangement of projects to see which ones get funding or gain political traction is as focused and strategic as the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

Local residents participate in a native planting event along the shore of Cedar Lake Point Beach . Photo by Steve Kotvis

Left unmanaged, invasive species in a local ecological habitat fits the hallmark of cancer: they proliferate where they shouldn’t; they won’t die (avoid apoptosis); they won’t engage in a division of labor, don’t do the job they are supposed to do; they monopolize resources; and, they trash the environment. Failure to manage the urgent threat of Buckthorn and invasive species  will terminally destroy the foundation of our park system. The Plan must break the cycle of the Park Board ignoring needs in favor of shiny new projects. It must express urgency and lead, instead of continuing to depend almost solely on volunteers to fight the losing battle against the cancerous Buckthorn and other invasives. Possible new projects need to be considered within the context of natural areas, both in terms of impacts and priorities. Existing things need to be repaired and maintained before building new stuff. The public can submit comments to the Park Board through March 10.