One of Eagan’s last pristine areas is at the center of an effort to preserve more green space in the almost fully developed city.
The area surrounding and including Patrick Eagan Park was identified as a potential location for a municipal golf course earlier this year before a citizens task force decided the option wasn’t financially feasible.
Since then citizens groups and community leaders have been working to ensure the 102-acre natural park remains the way it is now.
"We’ve been working with people to see that the park is preserved as a park forever," said John Ward, an Eagan resident who is one of the organizers of Friends of Patrick Eagan Park, a group that sprung up during the golf course study. "We want to make sure the park stays a park forever."
That process has included discussing several options with the Eagan Park Advisory Commission, including the possibility of building a nature center in the park.
However, another variable helping the Friends of Patrick Eagan Park in their effort is a new campaign by the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation. The Foundation kicked off a yearlong "Embrace Open Space" campaign last month dedicated to raising awareness regarding open space in the Twin Cities.
At the center of that campaign are 10 "Twin Cities Treasures" identified by the McKnight Foundation as important open spaces that should be protected. Patrick Eagan Park and a potential stretch of green space leading down to Lebanon Hills Regional Park were among the "treasures" selected for the campaign.
"Patrick Eagan Park is the crown jewel of the city of Eagan," said Rip Rapson, president of the McKnight Foundation. "We hope that protecting open spaces becomes a community priority, one that is seen as an enhancement of economic development, not a barrier."
Rapson said that while the Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life and strengthen communities, it has mostly worked behind the scenes in doing so. However, the issue of preserving open space demanded a more public initiative, he said.
"Open spaces are every bit as much a part of the Twin Cities' infrastructure as roads and sewers," Rapson said. "They are part of what defines the Twin Cities. Yet, decisions affecting these enormously valuable assets are being left to a few. This campaign calls on people to get involved in public choices that affect open space."
The McKnight Foundation chose Patrick Eagan Park not only because it was recently threatened with development, but because it also is the springboard for an effort known as the "Eagan Core Greenway."
The "greenway" would be a protected corridor of more than 300 acres that are now largely undeveloped, and would extend from Patrick Eagan Park to Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
The Sierra Club and the Trust for Public Land have submitted a planning grant to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Metro Greenways program to more fully explore the greenway's possibilities.
The greenway also would include land north and east of the park, along with Caponi Art Park to the south, several city parks, including the Lexington-Diffley Athletic Fields, Goat Hill Park, Walnut Hill Park, Trapp Farm Park, and wetlands and private property between Trapp Farm Park and Lebanon Hills.
The Trust for Public Land has initiated discussions with interested landowners, city staff, and park commissioners to acquire and conserve these properties and other greenway sites.
Sharon Stephens, chairwoman of the sprawl and land use committee of the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter, said Patrick Eagan Park provides a great opportunity for the community to preserve even more open space.
The Sierra Club chapter used the park as its beginning and end points for its annual Tour de Sprawl this year. The annual event is designed to bring awareness to open space and urban sprawl issues.
"I think it’s great that the McKnight Foundation chose it as one of the Twin Cities treasures," Stephens said. "We want to bring as much attention to the park and the area as possible. Hopefully in the end the citizens and the community will be successful in providing for long-term protection of the land."
Ward said the greenway would be especially important because it would provide a continuous link of natural habitat for wildlife in the area.
"We’ve been hearing lately that there is too much mercury in the fish, there is West Nile virus in our hunting birds and now there could be wasting disease in the state’s deer," Ward said. "If you can’t hunt birds, are too scared to eat deer and the fish are toxic, it might be a good time to look at protecting the land we have left."
Rapson said the Embrace Open Space effort isn’t about stopping growth, but rather about starting a dialogue about how what space is left should be developed.
"The Twin Cities will grow and develop," Rapson said. "The tremendous economic strength of the region is an asset. The Embrace Open Space campaign is an effort to get people talking about how we want our region to look in the next few years, as well as 20 years from now when we will have more than half a million new residents."
More information about the campaign is available at www.EmbraceOpenSpace.org. For more information on Friends of Patrick Eagan Park is visit www.friendsofpatrickeaganpark.org.