The climbing, mountain bike trails and hiking trails are among the most popular ideas being pitched for the informally named Quarry Park in West Duluth.
But questions lingered during a standing-room-only meeting at Merritt Community Center on Thursday night about the city’s liability if an ice climber is injured, and about creating a neighborhood park that would serve special interest groups.
The city is proposing to create a 30-acre, multi-use park in an abandoned quarry above West Duluth, between 46th and 59th avenues west and below Skyline Parkway. The site — often known as Casket Quarry — boasts a 100-foot-high rock face and already is a favorite spot for climbers, particularly ice climbers. It also attracts hikers and other visitors drawn by the views of the city.
The meeting was part of the process to create a mini-master plan for the park. The next public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 11. The plan is expected to go to the Duluth City Council for approval in March, which allows time for improvements to the park to begin this year, said Lisa Luokkala, the city’s project coordinator.
When Jon Loye of TKDA, the consulting firm on the project, asked who wanted ice climbing at the park, only a few neighborhood residents raised their hands — but many hands raised in the group of ice climbers at the back of the room. Twenty people in the crowd of 39 indicated that they would include ice climbing in their top five choices of amenities at the park.
Although he rock climbs and mountain bikes, Tim Stratioti, a longtime West Duluth resident, questioned whether the park is being created with most Duluth residents in mind.
“A lot of the stuff that is prioritized, it feels prioritized, is not stuff that most people in this room do — ice climbing; these mountain bike trails are for elite mountain bikers. I would like to see equal focus put on things that everybody can do. It feels like it’s much more for special interest groups than the public at large,” he said.
Dave Pagel of the Duluth Climbers Coalition responded that the climbing community has already received a grant to help fund a main access trail from the proposed parking lot into the park. That trail is a priority to make the park accessible to all residents, he said.
“The climbers and the climbing coalition are absolutely dedicated to making this a park for everybody,” he said.
When it came to questions about the city’s liability for the ice climbing, Luokkala said that in Sandstone there have been a couple serious injuries on the city’s ice climbing park, and those individuals took responsibility for them.
Ryan Franke of Valley Youth Centers proposed the quarry floor could provide a natural amphitheater. The space wouldn’t have electricity and could be a venue for acoustic performances, he suggested.
“That’s a space that we would use to encourage personal expression and being on stage; and also pairing that personal human expression with the experience of being outdoors,” he said. “It would be an opportunity to build relationships across the arts community and the outdoors community if they were coexisting in this one site.”
Jeff Goetzman of TKDA said a study hasn’t been completed of the quarry floor’s acoustics. Luokkala added that there’s a small pocket of houses on the east side of the quarry, and those residents already are concerned about the noise created by people using the quarry now for ice climbing.
Other ideas for amenities at the park include picnic tables and grills, Frisbee golf, a geology study area and a viewing platform.
The project is part of the city of Duluth’s larger St. Louis River Corridor Initiative to develop more recreational opportunities in the western part of the city.
The city has received some pushback about creating a new city park, but Loye noted that the benefits of turning the former quarry into a city park include the ability to enforce rules and hours of use, protecting the land and providing city resources for maintenance.
Residents also said they want signs clearly denoting the park’s boundary, especially with the nearby Oneota Cemetery.
The park is adjacent to Brewer and Bellevue parks along Skyline Parkway, and eventually Quarry Park will feel like it’s part of those two existing parks, Luokkala said. Residents were split on whether they wanted the name to remain Quarry Park or have a new name given to the park. Luokkala noted that having a Native American name for the park could also be a possibility.
For more information about Quarry Park, go to www.duluthmn.gov/st-louis-river-corridor/quarry-park/