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The Excelsior City Council recently approved adopt-a-tree and adopt-a-seat programs to help fund the continued maintenance of the Commons Park where dozens of events are held every year including the annual 10,000 Lakes Concours d’Elegance car, motorcycle and boat show.

The Excelsior City Council recently approved adopt-a-tree and adopt-a-seat programs as presented by Community for the Commons.

The Community for the Commons brought these programs to the council as an option to help fund the continued maintenance of the Commons Park, which is a 13-acre municipal park that was developed in 1854 on the shores of Lake Minnetonka on Lake Street.

The new programs were discussed at the July 16 meeting and approved Aug. 6 with the full support of city staff members, the Park and Recreation Commission and the Heritage Preservation Commission.

Community for the Commons is an Excelsior nonprofit developed in 2015 by local residents who wanted to support the Commons by restoring the park. 

Over the last two years, the organization has researched and developed a master plan for the park. The plan provides a long-term vision that is consistent with the primary users, community’s desired types, scale of use, local history, community’s capacity for investment and upkeep. 

The Commons Master Planning workgroup, which was developing the master plan, partnered with two Twin Cities design firms last year, MSR Architecture Design and Damon Farber, a landscape architecture firm, to develop design plans for the park. 

After three public meetings, the designs were finalized and approved by the city council late last year. The designs include making the park more walkable, restoring the beach and shoreline, enhancing accessibility in the Port of Excelsior, creating a more established gathering spot, adding bike parking, adding winter amenities, creating more area for play and adding or redoing existing structures including adding more restrooms and creating a new band shell.

One aspect of the master plan was tree maintenance and preservation. During the research phase, Erik Paulsen with Bartlett Tree Experts in Minnetonka did a survey of all the trees in the park. 

Paulsen discovered that there are currently 187 trees and 20 tree species in the Commons. Many of these trees are 100 to 160 years old and are valued at $1.8 million. But due to lack of funding for tree maintenance 16 of these trees are in need of removal, 22 are in poor condition and 149 need pruning. There are also 25 ash trees that are susceptible to emerald ash borer and very few new trees are being planted. 

Community for the Commons Chair Deb Rodgers said that these new programs would help fund and reduce tree maintenance costs.

Currently, the city has an adopt-a-bench program for the Commons, but Rodgers said the new proposed programs would expand that program to include trees as well as more seating options, such as tables and chairs.

“The benefits of these programs would be it would help improve maintenance, reduce workload of city staff, increase donations by adding elements to “adopt,” increase awareness by marketing both programs together and it would create an endowment fund for the long-term care of the park, landscape and furniture,” Rodgers said. “We’re suggesting is a public-private partnership and the City of Excelsior would continue to do the same things that the city has been doing.”

The city would continue to remove dead or severely compromised trees, provide urgent removal of branches caused by storm damage, provide preventive treatments and water newly planted trees.

The tree maintenance cost for the first year is $1,700 initial cost for every existing tree and $250 annual ongoing maintenance costs. The city and the adopt-a-tree program would fund these costs.

“The city’s cost are actually no more than what you currently spend on trees and it’s actually probably quite a bit less,” Rodgers said.

She added that the initial costs are high because there is a lot of delayed maintenance on many of the trees, but noted that after the first year there will be a lot of savings. Many of the trees currently need pruning, shaping, installation of mulch rings and periodic upkeep and soil care such as aeration and fertilization. The funds will also go toward planting new trees.

Both the tree and seat programs would be outsourced to the Community for the Commons while inventories and plans would run through the Park and Recreation Commission and the Heritage Preservation Commission.

The adoption fees for a tree would be $3,000 for a new tree and $6,000 for a historic tree. Some of these funds would go to current costs and the rest would be placed in an endowment fund. 

The adoption fees could be paid in a one-time donation or over a three-year period. Rodgers said that multiple people could be involved in one adoption fee. Corporations or individuals may also have the option of being a sponsor.

Each tree would have an ArborScope Tree ID Tag and if scanned with a phone, the program would bring up the tree’s species, age, record of care, donor information, honoree information and user-defined fields. This software program would cost the city $1,500 every three years.

Rodgers said that Community for the Commons is currently discussing plans of using plaques on the trees as well an overall informational plaque that outlines the mission of the Community for the Commons and the donation programs. 

The adoption term would be 10 years for a seat and 20 years for a tree. After this period has ended, the city may offer the re-adoption of an item. If a new adoption occurs, the ID tag or plaques will remain in place and provide a “visual history” of the adoptions.

Councilmembers John Beattie and Todd Carlson initially expressed concerns that the adoption period was too long but eventually agreed to the time lengths.

“It’s a great idea and I support it,” said Mayor Mark Gaylord. “I think we do our best but there are a lot of trees in immediate need of pruning. Less than a month ago I was sitting on my porch (on Lake Street) and a large tree limb fell and crashed onto the sidewalk and it was a well over 100-pound limb. There could be some really serious injuries if we don’t do our maintenance on a regular basis so I think this really helps out.”

Carlson added, “I support what we’re trying to do and I support the Community for the Commons.”

The city council voted to hold off on the vote until the Aug. 6 meeting so the City Attorney Kevin Staunton could review the outsourcing agreement with the Community for the Commons. The council approved the programs at the Aug. 6 meeting in the consent agenda.

Rodgers said, “This council has been really supportive of our efforts to improve the Commons and we’d like to thank you.”

To learn more about Community for the Commons, visit communityforthecommons.org.

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