The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

Winter sports park coming to Rochester, MN ?

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Gamehaven Reservoir Park in southeast Rochester, MN could become a winter sports wonderland someday, if a group of cross-country skiers has anything to do with it.

The Rochester Active Sports Club wants to add a snow tubing hill, snowshoeing trails, mountain biking and a Nordic ski loop, complete with snowmaking operations using water from the reservoir.

The group spent a lot of time in the past year grooming the trail system in the park to be better for mountain bikers and winter “fat bikers.” They want to extend that success into winter, with the hope of getting more people out and active instead of hibernating, though nothing related to the snow-based activities has been built yet.

“If we want to be the healthiest city in the United States, we can’t just be healthy eight months of the year,” RASC president Michael O’Connor said. “Those of us who are more fanatical, we’re out no matter what. … But if it makes it difficult for people, they won’t do it.”

Similar winter recreation parks in the Twin Cities, such as Elm Creek Park Reserve, are usually really busy during the colder months, O’Connor said.

“It’s so popular on a weekend. … It’ll be packed because there is nowhere else to ski. It’s rush-hour skiing up there,” he said.

RASC got the go-ahead from the Rochester Park Board in November to create a master plan for Gamehaven, located right beside the Gamehaven Scout Reservation. The group also got approval from the Joint Powers Board. The master plan is expected to be completed in the next few months, O’Connor said. Gamehaven Park does have a website set up with information on all the potential aspects of the project, located at gamehavenspark.org.

Fits city vision

A winter sports park fits in with the Park Department’s plans as well, said head of parks and forestry Mike Nigbur.

“We’re looking to enhance wintertime use and recreation activities for the community, and having a snowmaking capability and outdoor recreation park … all these things can happen,” Nigbur said.

The city of Rochester submitted parks to the state for consideration for “regional designation” in order to get Legacy funds, and Gamehaven ranked in the top 20 out of 90 projects submitted, Nigbur said. Projects that scored highly, such as Gamehaven, would be more likely to get state funds, he said. About $8 million is given out each year in Legacy funds for parks, Nigbur said.

The park eventually will need to get approval from the Rochester City Council to be designated as a park, then they’ll start looking for grant funding, Nigbur said.

“We’ll try to get some public input from the community” throughout the process, he said.

$6 million plan

Jeff Robertson, an RASC member and Nordic skier, has been leading the planning efforts and worked on the trail project at Gamehaven, too.

“We’ve dreamed about it for a long time,” Robertson said.

The full park is expected to cost somewhere in the $6 million range, he estimates. A chalet could cost up to $1 million, he said.

“It depends a lot on all of the facilities you put in. … It’s going to take probably a lot of different sources for the funding,” Robertson said.

That might be a big price tag for some, but Robertson said the park would be a regional draw and play off the successes RASC has had in growing the cross-country skiing community here. When the group started its Nordic team in 2002, it only had a handful of kids and a couple coaches, he said.

“Today, it’s grown to 187 kids from all the high and middle schools in Rochester and some outside of Rochester, MN” Robertson said.

The team goes to about four meets per year, and it’s very possible those meets could happen at Gamehaven once it’s revamped, he said. They have had meets at Eastwood golf course before, which is fine as long as there’s snow. That can be unpredictable, though, and Gamehaven’s snowmaking capability on a potential ski loop would be a huge asset, he said.

DNR permission

The snowmaking capability would require a Department of Natural Resources permit to draw water out of the reservoir and drop the water level by about 9 to 12 inches, O’Connor said. That wouldn’t affect fishermen, he said.

“We don’t want to screw that up,” O’Connor said.

A tubing hill would attract nonskiers and families to the area as well, he said.

“If you get them out and get them active, it’s just a positive, positive thing,” Robertson said.

Contributor:  PostBulletin (MN)

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