Beach Blanket Bummer

TUCKED INTO THE northeastern corner of Cedar Lake, Hidden Beach has long been regarded as Minneapolis's pre-eminent late-night nude beach, much to the dismay of the area's wealthy property owners. Over the past two years, the area's neighborhood association, Kenwood Isles Area Association (KIAA), has tried different tactics for restoring quiet--and clothing--to the swimming hole. Most recently, the group has used some of its Neighborhood Revitalization Plan (NRP) funds to beef up the area's police presence, saying the beach is a hotbed of illegal activities and late-night revelry. However, longtime beachgoers contend that residents' concerns about safety are greatly exaggerated. The real reason the property owners are willing to use city revitalization money to buy extra cop time, they claim, is to rid the area of "urban undesirables."

Despite being a stone's throw from Hennepin Avenue, Hidden Beach has the feel of a country lake. The shore is tree-lined and the beach secluded. "It's pretty mellow here," says Neil Sorenson, 24, who spends a lot of time at the beach, swimming, sunning, and playing his guitar. But within the past couple of years, he says, the scene has become much less free-spirited. "Cops are ticketing and harassing people," he says. "Recently, a friend and I were sitting on the beach, there were maybe four people total, and a cop gave him a $47 ticket for having an open beer."

Beachgoers, who stay clothed during the days, are fined for letting their dogs run, for drinking alcohol, hanging out at the park after hours, and, occasionally, for indecent exposure, says Lt. Steve Kincaid, supervisor of the KIAA police buyback program. According to Kincaid, the neighborhood association isn't paying 5th Precinct cops $39.11 per hour to just to crack down on skinnydippers. "The 50 or so hours of additional policing per week is to improve Kenwood's livability and cut down on noise," he says. "We're concerned about alcohol and drug use, drug sales, loud parties, theft from garages and cars."

But while the cops harass everyone who hangs out on the beach, say Sorenson and his buddies, minorities fare the worst. "If there are Mexicans on beach, the cops will make a beeline for them, start asking them questions, and try to check their belongings," he says. "The wealthy residents want the beach to themselves. They're tired of looking at punk rockers or anyone who looks remotely different."

All of Minneapolis's neighborhood associations get city NRP money. One chunk of it is always allocated for extra policing, a policy that last year provoked a similar controversy when the Uptown association used its funds to pay police to discourage loitering in its commercial district.

KIAA Coordinator Jean Deatrick says Kenwood isn't "trying to chase off the mellow, hippie types," but there are some "unsavory" characters who frequent the beach, especially at night. "The real issue is prostitution, drug using and dealing, people speeding through the alleys, radios blasting," she says. "We aren't trying to make the neighborhood more 'whitebread.' We just want the neighborhood and the beach to co-exist peacefully.

"We pay higher property taxes, but we don't use the beach. We're too afraid."

Police call such fears inflated. "There are very few serious crimes," says Lt. L.A. Evenrud, an investigator with the Minneapolis Park Police. "We've always patrolled the area, but it's not a high-crime spot." What police see mostly, he says, are thefts from cars and unlocked garages, although Evenrud nonetheless maintains that park rules are being broken. "It's not an authorized beach," he says. "There's no lifeguard on duty, and the park closes at 10 p.m. We view it as undeveloped property, and just because some people say it's a beach, doesn't legally make it one."

But it's still a public park, adds Sorenson, who fears that increased policing of public places like Hidden Beach and Thomas Beach at nearby Lake Calhoun bodes ill for urban citizens. "Minneapolis in general is increasingly intolerant about the use of public space. Parks don't have benches anymore, and they're more heavily patrolled. People who live in apartments in the city are running out of places to go."

And while Hidden Beach may not be completely lost to urban beachgoers, a recent proposal by KIAA will alter the park drastically. "We've been talking about trimming the shrubs, making it more open, and changing the name" says Deatrick. "We aren't trying to drive out strangers. But if people's behavior is offensive, something needs to be done."

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