By Andrew Tellijohn
The City of Belle Plaine, located along the Minnesota River Valley with an abundance of bluffs and wooded areas, has a lot to offer for people who love the outdoors. An archery park seemed like the perfect addition to the community’s recreational offerings.
City officials first looked seriously at the idea of developing such a park when they were approached by an enthusiast in 2011. It then took some time to find the right location, establish partnerships, and secure funding for the project.
Through hard work and perseverance, the project came to fruition in September 2014, when the community celebrated the opening of the Belle Plaine Archery Park. The project was the winner of a League of Minnesota Cities’ 2015 City of Excellence Award.
“It is a project built on the strengths and assets of the community,” says Chelsea Alger, community development director for the city of about 6,700 residents. “It further enhanced recreational opportunities in Belle Plaine, and it engaged a collaborative effort in accomplishing our project goals.”
Collaboration was key
One of the main reasons for the success of the project, Alger says, was the establishment of several partnerships and the work of volunteers, who continue to participate in an archery park subcommittee. Those members stayed engaged throughout the process.
The subcommittee’s involvement began in April 2013. The city and Scott County had reached a verbal agreement allowing Belle Plaine to build the park on unused county land when city officials realized they needed some outside expertise to get the project completed. So the city ran a notice in the city newsletter and the local newspaper, which resulted in seven citizens stepping up at various stages of the project to offer help.
One was Wyatt Herrmann, a local high school student and Boy Scout, who ended up building the archery target frames as part of his Eagle Scout badge project. He initially got involved because he enjoys hunting and wanted to be a part of building a range where he could practice archery.
“It was really fun, but also very in-depth,” he says. “It made me feel like I was the leader of something big and important.”
Another volunteer was Ashton Pankonin, a financial advisor at Waddell & Reed and member of the Belle Plaine Chamber of Commerce board. He built the bow and arrow holders.
Pankonin says the park was built in response to community demand—there are a lot of bow hunters in the area and many more people who participate for the sport. He was impressed with the participation.
“It was nice to see,” he says. “That’s the passion you’re looking for in volunteers to be able to get things done. They enjoy the sport and have a vested interest in it, and they want to see the youth get involved. What better way to provide a local option for people to shoot.”
By the time it was completed, the Belle Plaine officials had worked with several collaborators. In addition to Scott County and a local Boy Scout chapter, partners included the Belle Plaine Chamber of Commerce, which donated $1,500 for an elevated platform at the park, and the school district, which donated bows and arrows for the grand opening of the park.
Those project champions made a difference, Alger says. “It was kind of unusual to have so much help and engagement throughout the project, but that’s what got it done. The enthusiasm of the community members pushed the project that much further,” she says.
Challenges of the project
It’s been open for about a year now, and supporters say the park is getting a lot of use, but this project did not come together without overcoming some challenges.
One was the large gap in the progress between November 2011, when a site was identified, and February 2013, when the city and county reached agreement. The delay likely was caused by competing priorities and turnover in city staff. One of the officials who left had been a big champion of the archery park. But Alger credited the patience and persistence of supporters, who maintained their enthusiasm as she arrived in Belle Plaine and learned the details of the project.
Another challenge was making sure the park was built in a safe location. City Councilmember Cary Coop played a key role in finding the right spot. He and other supporters visited several locations, some of which were discarded due to a heavy mosquito population or safety issues.
“We looked and looked and looked for sites,” he says. “We went all over town.”
Finally, in a location just outside Belle Plaine city limits in Scott County, Coop and others found a 2.4-acre site that once housed a mine for clay used to make bricks. The mining work converted what had once been a hill into a flat land with vertical walls that were 100 feet tall—the perfect backdrop for this kind of project.
Coop says his diligence in seeking a spot for the archery park stemmed from a long-standing desire of residents to be able to shoot without having to drive to another community. “There were a lot of people asking for it over quite some time,” Coop says.
Since the land is just outside the city’s western borders, staff had to negotiate a land usage deal with Scott County. The process went well—both sides had worked together on previous deals and had a com¬fort level with each other, says Brad Davis, planning manager for Scott County.
But there were some issues that had to be worked out before the agreement was reached. A portion of the land was being used by the county as a maintenance shed. The rest of the property was unused at the time. Davis says county officials thought this sounded like a fine use for the property, but they needed first to ensure an archery park would be safe and that it wouldn’t alter access to the existing county building.
Even with those issues, though, Alger says the deal came together with relative ease. It was important that the city be allowed access to the land at no charge, because the city did not have the means to buy it and had been unable to find another suitable location, she adds.
Parks and trails, Coop says, have long been an important part of Belle Plaine’s culture. There are several parks within city limits, and you can travel Belle Plaine from east to west and north to south all on trails without crossing a highway. The archery park is a nice addition to that legacy, he says.
Pankonin says the city does a nice job in general of adding new amenities to Belle Plaine and with keeping its park systems new and vibrant. There are around 15 parks within the city’s borders, and a Frisbee golf course was just added to one.
“They’re always pushing for new things to do in town,” he says. “You want to make sure your citizens have parks and things to keep them here in town, and I think this archery park is a good piece that will give people a reason to stay in town.”
Upkeep on the archery park continues as well. The subcommittee continues to meet, and there are plans in the works for future improvements, Alger says. She recently received word that the local chamber would kick in another $1,500 toward the purchase of higher-end targets to supplement less durable ones installed initially. The city is also considering expanding the park in the future, possibly with picnic and shelter areas.
“We went into this knowing the funding was fairly limited,” she says. “We tried to do everything at minimal cost to get it going and get interest and engagement in the community with the intent of adding things in the future and upgrading the targets.”
Andrew Tellijohn is a freelance writer based in Richfield, Minnesota.
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