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Four things to know about the future of Gamehaven Regional Park

Four things to know about the future of Gamehaven Regional Park

On June 15, the Rochester City Council approved the master plan for the Gamehaven Regional Park, giving the green light to a project that has been years in the making.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the new park, a glimpse at the master plan, and an explanation of what the park will add to the Rochester community as the city continues to grow. 

Where is the park?

 

Gamehaven Regional Park is located just east of the Shoppes on Main in southeast Rochester, with public access located off of 45th Street SE.

The property was originally acquired by the city in 1986 for a flood control project, but wasn't zoned as parkland until the master plan was approved by the city council. 

Jeff Robertson, a board member of the Rochester Active Sports Club, the all-volunteer group of outdoor enthusiasts who spearheaded the project, says that development of the Gamehaven site started by happenstance.

“In 2011, we got approval from the city to build mountain bike trails in Indian Heights Park,” Robertson said. But as the process progressed, the club discovered that the park, located in the northwest quadrant of the city, was a Native American burial site that Robertson believes dates back to the 1860s.

RASC instead turned to the underutilized Gamehaven Reservoir site, and obtained park board approval to build the new trails in 2012. 

The park is adjacent to the Gamehaven Scout Reservation, and some of the park’s existing mountain bike trails do cross onto scout property.

“The challenge will be keeping people off their property when they don’t want us there,” Robertson said. RASC board member Chris Flood adds that the club is pursuing some options to delineate the boundary between the park and the scout reservation, including installing a gate across the trailhead. 

What will the park offer?

Gamehaven is being billed as a four-season facility, but supporters anticipate that its wintertime amenities will set it apart from the city’s other parks and draw users from throughout southeast Minnesota. 

“The big problem in Rochester is that we have great parks in the summertime, but everything shuts down November through March,” said RASC board member Michael O’Connor. 

The master plan calls for a three to five kilometer-long lighted nordic ski track with man-made snowmaking capabilities. “There’s a tremendous demand for this in Rochester,” said RASC board member Steve Greymont. “People drive to the Cities to ski during brown winters.”


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Flood agreed, saying: “It’s tough if you don’t know what the conditions will be like or if the snow will last through the winter. If you can lay down a two-foot base of man-made snow, it has to get very warm for that to melt.”

Plans also call for a terrain park for beginner skiers and snowboarders, a tubing hill, and trails for snowshoeing and fat tire mountain biking. The land area planned for the terrain park and tubing hill doesn’t currently lie within the park’s boundaries, but Robertson says that acquiring those parcels from private owners is a top priority. 

Three-season activities will include an 18-hole disc golf course, a paved trail around the reservoir, a natural playground, DNR-managed fishing, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking and paddle boarding. 

How does it compare to other parks in or near Rochester?

During the planning process, RASC members drew comparisons to parks in the metro area, such as Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove. “We looked to the Twin Cities and what they’re doing,” O’Connor said. 

According to Robertson, some of the other Rochester area parks cover similar activities, but none of them cover the full scope of outdoor active sports as Gamehaven does. For instance, RASC also manages the grooming of cross country skiing trails at Essex Park and Quarry Hill, and beach access is available at Chester Woods. 

RASC members are hoping to have facilities in place as public interest in the park increases. “At Quarry Hill, people have created rogue trails that have led to erosion,” Flood said. “It’s important to build infrastructure ahead of growth to protect our resources.” 

Below is a comparison of how the Gamehaven master plan compares to other parks in the area:

Where will the funding come from?

Funding is anticipated to come from several sources, including grants, usage fees, private donors and the city’s operational budget. 

Gamehaven has also been designated as a regional park, making it eligible to receive Legacy grant funds (two other Rochester parks, Quarry Hill and Cascade Lake, also have that designation). 

However, there’s only $8 to 10 million per year in Legacy Grant funds for all of the regional parks outside of the Twin Cities metro area, O’Connor said, so it will likely take five to 10 years to fund the entire master plan. “Snowmaking is still several years off," he said.

Park planners also expect nordic ski trail, terrain park, and tubing hill fees to financially sustain snowmaking operations. According to the master plan:

Generally, if a downhill action sports area is challenging enough, it can generate enough revenue to pay for its snowmaking, snow grooming, and other support operations. They can even generate enough revenue to subsidize the cost of snowmaking, snow grooming, and other support operations needed for an adjacent cross country ski area.
— Gamehaven Master Plan

While implementation of the master plan (and many of the wintertime amenities) will take years, summertime activities at the park such as fishing, mountain biking and trail running are open now.


About Claire Walling: Claire Walling moved to Rochester two years ago from the Twin Cities after graduating from Hamline University . When she’s not working as a business writer she enjoys running the great trails around the region, designing and creating things, and drinking coffee. Fun fact: she was on a relay team that ran across Iowa in 54 hours.

Follow Claire on Twitter.


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(Cover photo: Claire Walling)

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