It looks like Minneapolis' Hiawatha Golf Course is about to die

Park Commissioner Liz Wielinski knows the course, first opening in 1934, has become cherished by generations of blue-collar families.

Park Commissioner Liz Wielinski knows the course, first opening in 1934, has become cherished by generations of blue-collar families. File

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is screwed one way or another.

The Hiawatha Golf Course can stay in business by continuing to pump at least 242 million gallons of groundwater annually into Lake Hiawatha, even though the Park Board's permit allots for only 36.5 million gallons per year. And it's only a matter of time before it incurs the wrath of the DNR, the agency with the power to yank said permit.

Or it can reduce the rate of pumping to 94 million gallons annually, enough to save neighborhood homes from flooding. Yet that wouldn't be enough to expell all the water from the golf course, making it unplayable.

The possibility of shuttering Hiawatha makes Park Commissioner Liz Wielinski cringe. She knows the course that first opened in 1934 has become cherished by generations of blue-collar families. Before he passed away, Wielinski's step-grandfather played at Hiawatha.

"He used to golf there everyday when he was alive," she says. "And I understand how [the golf course] is really a major part of that community."

Unfortunately, "what the DNR has told us," Wielinski is quick to note, "is that it won't allow us to continue to pump that ridiculously large amount of water.

"At the same time, we can't just entirely stop pumping the water, either. There are homes in the area that have to be thought about as well."

What would replace the course?

One idea that's attracted attention is turning the site into a food forest. A petition to establish the "Hiawatha Food Forest" has garnered almost 3,000 signatures.

The Hiawatha Ecological Park and Food Forest would, according to its website, be surrounded "by a large park where almost everything is edible. Mixed-use trails meander past trees heavy with apples, pears, plums and cherries. Families enjoy blueberries, raspberries and hazelnuts while overlooking a playing field. Herb gardens, salad greens and wildflowers connect to art installations celebrating cultures and histories. Grapevines shade picnic tables while sunflowers stand proud next to play grounds."

Moreover, it would serve as a foraging forest, with an open harvest policy that would "welcome everyone to harvest what they need. Community partnerships could ensure excess food goes to those who need it most."

Sounds pretty, thinks Wielinski, but there are practical considerations.

Would the forest be more orchard than wild-grown? If it's the former, orchards require a lot of maintenance.

"You have to remember," says Wielinski, "the golf course maintenance paid for itself in fees. If you were to have, like, an orchard, the maintenance costs would be greater stress on the [Park Board's] general fund."

On the other hand, if the forest would be more like berries and other edibles growing wild and in thickets, "that would be a different type of thing where people are getting all scraped and cut up foraging," she says. "You'd have to talk to the community [first] before you do any of these things.

"That's because while they might like a well-maintained orchard, they might not like a bunch of raspberry thickets that look like the wild and people have to crawl through them."

Whatever the Park Board decides, change will come slowly. If the Park Board decides the golf course's days are over, nothing is going to happen before 2020.

Though the decision won't be voted on until next month, the public gets one last opportunity to weigh in next week. The location remains TBD, but the date and time have been set: June 21 at 6 p.m.