At the midday parks committee meeting Tuesday, Minot's Forestry Department unveiled a plan for a new nature playground at Camp Owetti in Oak Park. The proposal was given by city forester Brian Johnson, who developed the plan with an assistant after making sure the idea would be in compliance with voluminous state health and saftey regulations concerning parks and playgrounds.
Johnson envisions "something simple and about nature," currently involving four stations placed along the Camp Owetti area walking trail. These would be geared toward specific age groups ranging from 5 to 12 years, with a lookout center; log tunnel and natural balance beam; natural weaving trails; and a log fort featuring tree cookies, which are cuttings that allow children to learn about tree rings.
"We'd be the first in the state of North Dakota to have something like this," Johnson said of the park. "I think it'd be a real honor." He went on to briefly describe the construction involved, a project the Forestry Department could do itself using "logs we cut, though they would have to be cured for bugs and rot." No trees would need to be felled, and the park would not be overly near to the Girl Scouts camp that shares the trail. The park would be a low-maintenance, low-cost project with the potential for future additions as needed. "There are tons of things we can do," added an enthusiastic Johnson.
Johnson wants the park to reflect an emphasis on fun outdoor activity, "trying to get (kids) out of the house and back outside." With national concern over child obesity increasing, Minot is one of many communities across the country taking steps to thin its kids back out. In its most recent survey in 2007, the National Survey of Children's Health estimated about one in four North Dakota children are overweight or obese. While relatively that figure is lower than many states, it is still much higher than the average even a generation ago. When studies on the subject began in 1980, only one in 16 children were obese.
In addition to providing a fun place to play, the different stations would also provide educational information geared toward younger children. If approved, the department feels the project could be completed in time for Arbor Day celebrations next year. Work would begin "right away in the spring," Johnson said.
"It seems like a good idea to me," agreed commissioner John Drady, who recommended moving the plan forward for more thorough consideration at this month's board meeting. The motion was carried without dissent.
Other matters under discussion included setting a timetable for how long the Minot Park District will hold its meetings at the Roosevelt Park Zoo's new visitor center. While ordinarily such formal discussions are held at the Minot Municipal Auditorium, there has been a scarcity of space since Erik Ramstad Middle School had to relocate there after the 2011 flood. The school is expected to move into new facilities this fall. Park district meetings will continue to be held at the zoo through May, when the school year ends.
Also discussed was the ongoing cleanup along the river at Souris Valley Golf Course, with the Minot Fire Department both assisting in the brush and limb removal and fulfilling its obligations to conduct chainsaw training. Additional bleachers have been installed at Maysa Arena, increasing its seating capacity by about 100.
In park matters, bids are being taken for a truck budgeted for Oak Park and an additional all-purpose vehicle. The department is also considering cost-saving measures by shopping around for better deals on soil. Rising transportation costs across the state have made it nearly as expensive to ship soil from Fargo as it is from Minneapolis. Maintenance reports that applicants are being considered for a mechanic vacancy, with applications coming in from as far away as North Carolina. Bids for pool furniture are also under consideration.
There will be a planning meeting today at noon, with the Minot Park District monthly meeting next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held at the zoo visitor's center.