Candidates making Glen Park Project a major issue in city’s April 3 election

Posted March 28, 2018

Loving the sense of peace and relaxation he gets while hiking and fishing, trout fisherman Jonathan Xiong, accompanied by his two brothers, returned to Glen Park last week, where they, like many fishers and kayakers, utilize the park’s access to the Kinnickinnic River.

“It’s a good place to relax; that’s just what I come for,” Xiong said. “It’s nice to catch fish, but just enjoying the outdoors is really the main point.”

As a casual visitor to Glen Park, on various occasions, Xiong has seen kayakers as well as other fishermen struggle in their effort to get down to the river or back to the parking lot.

“A lot of people like to do kayaking, and I know it’s hard for them to get down the hill and back up,” he said. “Some trout fishermen just go over there to get down (to the water), but we like more of the hiking portion.”

With the city’s Glen Park Project being a top issue in the April 3 election for alderperson at-large, the park’s access point to the river is something being considered. As one of four candidates running, Michael Page thinks the plan for the project is in need of revision, largely because of a strong suspicion that the access point will eventually become obsolete.

“No one’s going to park at Glen Park to utilize that access point anymore,” said Page, who in addition to running for the seat is also president of Friends of the Kinni. “In the future, with that river restored, kayakers are not going to park at the tennis courts and haul their kayaks all the way down that huge hill. There’s going to be parking where the yard waste dump is right now, down below the power plant building, where people can launch their kayaks into the river without having to walk down a hill at all.”

Having numerous concerns about the plan for Glen Park, Page thinks the City Council needs to consider future changes in the city, such as the removal of the Kinnickinnic dams.

“They need to look around,” he said. “They need to come up for air and see what else is changing around us before we invest all this money in tearing down trees and tearing down playground areas.”

Also greatly concerned about the money being invested, Jeff Bjork, a candidate and at-large incumbent, believes the park is a community park and should be upgraded, at least in part, by the River Falls community and not by the city.

“I have some problems with we as a city being willing to spend $4.3 million to upgrade that,” Bjork said. “Everything that’s in there has been donated or generated by organizations, whether it’s the Lions Club or Moose Lodge or whoever.”

Though he does believe various aspects of Glen Park are in need of upgrades and/or repair, Bjork would rather see the money invested in an ongoing plan to relocate the police and fire departments to more modern facilities.

“We have an out-of-date police department and fire department down at Second Street and Elm Street,” he said. “The fire hall was built in 1955; it’s very small. The police station used to be where our city hall was; it’s also where our library was. We have that building as a police station now, and back in 1997, they did a remodel for a 7-10 year life on it, because they knew they’re not going to be in there after 7-10 years. Well, guess what? That was 21 years ago, and we’re still there.”

Despite Bjork’s distaste for the city’s investment in the Glen Park Project, his fellow at-large incumbent and current election rival, Scott Morrissette, is fully in favor of the plan, and believes the upgrades are exactly what citizens want.

“We did a citizen survey a couple years ago, and we heard loud and clear that citizens are interested in improving that park,” he said.

With various park features being overly outdated, Morrissette understands why citizens are seeking upgrades.

“Even on the hottest day, it’s kind of damp and cold in there,” he said, referring to the park’s picnic shelter. “It’s not a very inviting building. The baseball field out there is antiquated; it’s undersized.”

With both of the at-large positions set to be contested in the April 3 election, two of the candidates running will become elected, allowing them the opportunity to vote on any decisions regarding the future of Glen Park. Though there are nearly 10,000 registered voters in River Falls, only 1,180 voted in last year’s spring election, according to city election statistics. Given the statistically low turnout, one of the candidates is even employing a strategy to persuade college students to vote for him.

“A lot of what I’ve been doing has just been online,” Page said. “I know that’s a much better way to reach college students than, say, putting an ad in the newspaper.”

Though not all of the candidates have made focused attempts to specifically reach college-age voters, university students are definitely being considered, as candidates share their visions for the renovation of Glen Park. Candidate and lifelong city resident, Judie Foster Babcock, wants to ensure that changes to the park will only enhance its appeal and accessibility to students and campus residents.

“We work really hard to make sure trails and pathways and bikeways and the swimming pool are all accessible to the folks who live in our community,” she said. “Whether they’re permanent residents or transient, because they’re a student for a few years, they’re all welcome. It’s right in the heart of our community and it’s easily accessible by the Swinging Bridge.”

Currently only coming to the park for its point of access to fishing and hiking, Xiong said, as a college student he used to visit the park regularly, prior to graduating from UWRF in 2015. Now he looks forward to any improvements the city chooses to make.

“I used to come here to do some swimming. I would play some volleyball, soccer and basketball here,” he said. “It’s a good park, so if they’re upgrading – awesome! It’s a good community, good neighborhood park, all around.”