Park Board to close Hiawatha Golf Course

Storm sewer at 30th Avenue dumping sand and silt into Minnehaha CreekBY ED FELIEN

According to a memorandum sent out June 8: “MPRB staff has considered the potential of a 9-hole golf course, but has determined 9-hole golf is not financially viable at this course. As a result, the options for use of the property in a reduced pumping scenario no longer include golf in an 18-hole or 9-hole configuration.”
“At a public meeting held on May 18, 2017, the City of Minneapolis (City) and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) presented two alternatives for the Hiawatha Golf Course property: one that continues pumping of groundwater at a rate of at least 242 million gallons annually while preserving the golf course, and another that reduces the rate of groundwater pumping to approximately 94 million gallons annually. The second option cannot support an 18-hole golf course on the site. As discussed during the meeting, the second option opens the property to a range of other recreation opportunities.”
This has been a manufactured crisis from the beginning.
When Theodore Wirth created Lake Hiawatha Park and Golf Course almost 90 years ago, he dredged the lake to a depth of 29 feet. This created a clear, swimmable lake out of what was a swamp. The lake was lower by about 4 feet according to people who lived in the area 50 years ago. Today the lake is higher and the depth is only 11 feet because of the accumulation of sand and silt runoff from storm sewers that empty into Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek.
Staff admits, “There are piles of sand at some of the storm sewer outlets that empty into Minnehaha Creek.” Over almost 90 years, that accumulation of sand and silt has raised the level of the outlet from Lake Hiawatha to Minnehaha Creek. This and the dams (or weirs) the Park Board has constructed have blocked the release of water and raised the water level of Lake Hiawatha and, consequently, the water table for the surrounding neighborhood.
If the Park Board wanted to solve the problem they would simply dredge the creek to a depth of 4 feet, and that would eliminate pumping. More than a year ago we suggested this and even got a bid to perform the work. In March of 2016 we wrote in Southside Pride: “I wrote to Tillges Excavating and asked how much they would charge to dredge a creek, digging a trench 4 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 1.3 miles long (about the distance from 28th Avenue to the Falls). They said, ‘It would all depend on the conditions. For example if it’s wet conditions you could get as high as $100,000.00.’” The Park Board has already given $338,207.42 to Barr Engineering to study the problem, why haven’t they spent $100,000 to solve the problem? Barr Engineering has told them that dredging the channel of Minnehaha Creek would lower the water table and reduce flooding.
The Park Board wants to eliminate the 18-hole golf course at Hiawatha. They want nature in its natural state. And the natural state of Lake Hiawatha is a swamp. Through their negligence in not dredging the accumulated sand and silt from the creek and lake, they have manufactured a crisis, and they are using that crisis to advance their agenda.
Naomi Klein, in her book “Shock Doctrine,” shows how unscrupulous venture capitalists used the crisis in Eastern Europe to buy up state monopolies and become very rich. The Park Board is using the flood of 2014 to argue that a golf course at Hiawatha is untenable given the pumping that is necessary to maintain it and the danger that flooding could happen—but they could solve those problems by dredging the creek. They know that. Barr Engineering knows that. But they don’t want to solve the problem. They want to use the problem to eliminate golf.
They have held public meetings that have offered forced choices. They never considered dredging the creek and solving the problem. They’ve made it all seem very open and democratic, but, of course, it’s really been very manipulative. It reminds one of a scene described by William Shirer in “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” A Nazi commander was explaining how he manipulated people. The commander said he could make a cat eat turpentine voluntarily. The listener couldn’t believe him. The commander grabbed a cat, painted its butt with turpentine, and the cat frantically tried to lick it off. “See,” the commander said, “The cat is eating the turpentine voluntarily.”
And people will decide they want to eliminate golf because that’s the only option they believe they have.
And they will do it voluntarily.
There will be a final meeting to announce the decision on June 21 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Lake Nokomis Community Center.
Call the Park Board for more information: 612-230-6400, and call your commissioner to ask, “What in the heck is going on?”
There is a very well-organized and large organization in South Minneapolis doing a very effective job of lobbying the Park Board for a food forest on the Hiawatha Golf Course. When the Great Flood happened in 2014, people in the community began to imagine some other purposes for Hiawatha, and a food forest seemed like the best idea at the time. But I am not sure how much food you could grow in a swamp (or, wetland). Lake Hiawatha used to be called Rice Lake because Native Americans harvested wild rice there. Before that, when it was first discovered in the early 19th century, it was simply called Mud Lake.
I would propose a radical solution to the dilemma of golf course versus food forest.
Why not have both? Why not share the land? Tear down the fences that enclose the course. Let everyone on the course. Families could take a walk; people could exercise their dogs; young people could pick fruit and nuts and plant trees (with some professional supervision), but they must stay on pedestrian paths and in the out-of-bounds area of the course. The out-of-bounds area constitutes more than half the physical area of the course and paths could be connected.
There are many ways Hiawatha Golf Course can be more widely shared with the community. The old course at St. Andrews is closed for golf on Sundays so that the neighboring community can picnic and play there (play anything but golf).
But I believe strongly it is in all our interests (golfers, food foragers and homeowners in the neighborhood) to lower the lake level by 4 feet. This would eliminate the need for pumping. It would lower the water table and reduce the flood plain to prevent flooded basements, allow a continuation of an 18-hole course and allow for a greater diversity of horticulture. This could be done by dredging the creek of the silt and sediment that has accumulated over the past 90 years. Lowering the water level of Lake Hiawatha would mean shrinking its depth from 11 feet to 7. That’s a very shallow lake, but it would be suitable for growing wild rice.
But no matter what the decision is for the future of Hiawatha, I believe the Park Board has failed us by exploiting a problem without seriously trying to solve it. Is it possible that our Park Board commissioners don’t know water runs downhill? We can only assume that all the commissioners knew what was happening and knew the inevitable outcome?
Is it too late for them to begin asking serious questions?
We asked Park Board candidates William Shroyer and Steffanie Musich to comment on this article in 150 words or less.
William Shroyer:
“I believe a 9-hole Premier Golf Course would work. If the 18-hole courses make money a 9-hole would be possible and profitable. It would obviously be on the driest part of the site. Food Forest and silent sports would have plenty of space. The dam/weir on 27th Avenue keeps the Hiawatha water table too high.
“The problem with the Minneapolis Park Board public commentary session held by the Park Board on April 20 at Nokomis Community Center is that the focus is divide and conquer. 100 or more people divided into randomly chosen groups. The groups were given cards and told to play the cards on a map to determine activities for Hiawatha Golf site. These “games” stop true debate because the “pro golf” and the “pro food -forest” people are isolated in separate groups. Random groups is not how true debate happens.”
Steffanie Musich sent us 550 words. We asked her to edit it to fit our space. She refused and said we were not to edit her writing. We regret she has decided not to participate in this important debate.


Photo Caption: Storm sewer at 30th Avenue dumping sand and silt into Minnehaha Creek

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