The Big Island project is moving forward as construction on phase one begins and the project was approved for $300,000 in state funding. The Orono City Council discussed changes to the project during their Nov. 9 meeting after the parks commission made recommendations to the council.
During a special park commission meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, funding for the Big Island project was discussed as state funding became available for the project. The funds are coming from a state bonding bill that was recently passed and included $300,000 for the project.
The grant funds will be administered by the Minnesota State Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and are tagged for the city of Orono to predesign, design, construct, furnish and equip improvements at Big Island park. Those improvements include a picnic area, trails and trail gates, a restroom, permanent seating and interpretive panels.
Big Island Park was purchased by the City of Orono approximately 10 years ago with support from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. Since then, the park has not seen many changes; however, the Big Island Master Plan includes plans for constructing a restroom, a stone picnic table, a sitting stone, trails, swing gates, picnic shelter area and interpretive panels with the history of the park available for visitors to read.
Items that were previously removed from the project are now being added back due to the additional funding. These include a second restroom,additional picnic tables and a picnic shelter area, which is needed to comply with the DNR grant. Other items proposed by the park commission include extending the trail, a memorial honoring veterans and to look at more barrier work to deter snowmobiles and motor vehicle traffic.
Current project funding comes from the city’s park fund, donations from the Big Island Legacy Foundation, individual donations, a DNR grant, in-kind donations from Bolton and Menk and a state bonding fund from DEED. This makes the available funds total $717,685. The total project cost is sitting at $513,939. The funds from DEED are still contingent on what rules are associated with the bonding dollars, according to city staff.
Council member Victoria Seals shared her support for the overall Big Island Project; however, she is on board to table some of the additional elements being proposed as she is concerned about how the city will maintain all of the proposed additional elements.
“There’s no rush to making the decision on this, at least from my perspective,” she said.
Other council members were in favor of getting the entire project done at one time after the idea to have the additional work become a second project came about. The council voted to add the second bathroom, picnic shelter area and picnic tables to the Big Island Project with a 3-2 vote.