Off Beat

Denude Beach

Hidden Beach has it all: woody seclusion, mud baths, the occasional nudist. What it doesn't have is official "beach" status, or the enthusiastic endorsement of its Kenwood neighbors, who for years have endured noise, late-night yard urination, and occasional gunshots.

Late last summer, Minneapolis park police stepped up enforcement of Minnesota swimming laws, which deem anything beyond wading at unsanctioned beaches to be illegal. That may explain why scores of beachgoers arrived at the Cedar Lake site with protest placards last Monday, April 15, to attend an outdoor public meeting convened by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to discuss imminent plans for ridding the area of buckthorn.

Though most environmentalists present agreed that the invasive plant species must go, many took the park board's plan--which calls for eradicating 85 percent of plant life in some areas--as an extreme measure spurred by neighborhood pressure to close the beach. After 20 minutes of heated interruptions, the meeting's chair, assistant superintendent of park operations Mike Schmidt, testily walked off and took his loudspeaker with him. But the informal meeting that followed allowed for more civilized debate--and even some consensus.

While most agree the park should remain wild (in contrast to, say, Lake Calhoun), there's less shared passion for preserving Hidden Beach's unique human culture. Keith Prussing, president of the Cedar Lake Park Association, says he disagrees with the scale and pace of the Board's herbicidal plan. "In mid-January we were told it was a couple acres," he says. "Then we found out in mid-April that had gone to 15 acres. At its best, this could be a model restoration project, with a gradual replacement of natural vegetation. But it's being police-driven."

Everyone seems to agree that the excessive behavior--illegal drugs, late-night drumming--is as out of control as the predatory plant life. And with a few million dollars of state money slotted for Cedar Lake in 2003 or 2004, the beach's future may well be at stake. "It's going to be up to all of us to not break the rules too much," says beachgoer Peter Hutter, who apologized to Schmidt for having taken an accusatory tone earlier. "If people want it to turn into a parking lot, then just keep being stupid."

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