Preserving and improving a gem: Master Plan approved for Hok-Si-La Park
LAKE CITY — When Lake City residents were asked what they'd like to change about Hok-Si-La Park, the majority response was simple: not a thing.
On Monday, June 10, the vote was just as simple. As part of the consent agenda, the Lake City City Council unanimously passed the Hok-Si-La Park Master Plan, a comprehensive document showing all aspects of the park.
Established in 1973, the 252-acre park on the shores of Lake Pepin has many offerings: camping, a dining hall, picnic areas and hiking trails.
There has never been a master plan done for any of the Lake City parks, according to Megan Smith and Scott Jensen. Previously, there were internal studies to assess the parks' impact on the city, but nothing quite of this magnitude.
The plan was developed to review the current state of the park, while also looking at how it can be improved and what's working.
Now that the plan has been approved, the city can send it to the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission so Hok-Si-La can be considered for designation as a regionally significant park. If the park is chosen, the city will be able to apply for Legacy funds to add or improve areas of the park without tapping extensive city money or relying solely on revenue generated from the park.
Smith, the city's planning and community development director, said Hok-Si-La Park's economic impact was a big reason for why they wanted to develop the plan.
Over the past five years, the park has operated with about 85% cost recovery through campsite and camper cabin rentals, firewood and concession sales, building and shelter rentals for events and suggested donations for day use.
The plan also shows a comparison to the other parks, which operate at about 7% cost recovery and the city swimming pool being around 53%.
Jensen, the city's public works director, said he wished they could quantify the money generated from park visitors who use the city's restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses. He said between Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, the park is typically full, with roughly 600 people on the grounds on a given day.
JoAnne Klees has managed the park for 17 years. She came from a career in the U.S. Postal Service, saying she's always loved working outdoors. When the job became available, she couldn't resist.
Klees said throughout this process of surveying park users and talking about what the park is and could be, she's always held on to the notion that Hok-Si-La won't be able to be everything to every person. It's just not realistic. So instead, the focus was on what Hok-Si-La does well.
The park has tent camping and six camper cabin sites. There neither plan nor desire to add recreational vehicle camping to the park; people want to maintain the park's unique environmental aspects.
Adding cabins was a big deal, according to Klees. The cabins are ADA compliant and are great for people who still love the park but don't want to sleep in a tent.
Often, Klees recounts a time when the cabins were put in and an interested camper contacted the park. The camper asked if people could keep their cars next to their site. The person was told they couldn't and the camper responded with "good."
Keeping the park in its natural state is of the utmost importance to the Klees. Groups such as the St. Paul Audubon doing its warbler count over Mother's Day weekend every year. People come from all over the state, and country, to come visit the park for its environmental features.
The plan surveyed 166 people in 2018, showing that 28% of respondents who visited the park traveled upwards of 50 miles to get there.
"Lake City's got this really unusual situation where they have a park that isn't developed, that can keep a community healthy," Klees said.
Weddings, graduations, Lions Club dinners, schools coming to the park throughout the year. For Klees, the park is always busy, with people coming to enjoy the serenity.
So what Smith, Jensen and Klees want to add or remodel? At this point, the trio say it's a project-by-project need.
"Whenever we survey the community about, 'What do you love best about Lake City and don't want to ever change?' We always hear: don't ever sell Hok-Si-La, don't ever develop Hok-Si-La," Smith said. "People have a tolerance for some amount of change, but they don't want the overall character of the park changing."
Renovating the main office building and reconfiguring the parking lot could be options in the future.
Starting next summer, as part of the Highway 61 renovation project, a trail will run adjacent to the highway along Lake Pepin from the city toward Hok-Si-La Park. Planners hope this will increase the number of walkers and bike riders coming into the park.
No matter what comes from the master plan, the trio said they are pleased to have a historical document they can go back to and see why people love Hok-Si-La Park.
Don't expect any radical changes any time soon. Instead, go enjoy the beach, take the family for a mini-vacation and enjoy the park people love so much.