Park It: Twin Cities parks among country's best

Come summer, the parks in Minneapolis and St. Paul are popular destinations -- so much so that they've drawn nationwide attention. A new report released yesterday by the Trust for Public Land lauds the Twin Cities for park programs and policy.

This year the report includes America's 75 largest cities by population, said, program director Peter Harnik of the Trust for Public Land. Because TPL's research began with the nation's most populous towns and expanded from there, this is actually St. Paul's first year being studied.

"Every year, we run the new numbers, with more and more cities," Harnik said, “to get a broader picture of the country. Staff in our Twin Cities office are very proud, and we're very happy with what Minneapolis and St. Paul have achieved over the years in serving their residents. ”

The Twin Cities finished one-two in a couple of different significant categories: St. Paul took top honors in "recreation centers per 20,000 residents," with a 3.0 figure, while Minneapolis was runner-up with 2.6.

This pattern repeated itself in the "ball diamonds per resident" category, with each city possessing more than five fields per 10,000 people and St. Paul placing first. Evidently Minneapolis is more of a tennis town, with more courts per capita than anyplace else in the country. St. Paul tied for third in the racket sport category.

The nonprofit organization evaluates cities based on their park acreage, the type of facilities available (skate parks, dog parks, tennis courts) and dozens of different data points. That includes popularity -- Lake Harriet/Lyndale Park attracts 2.25 million per year, making it one of the top 30 destination parks in America -- as well as operating budget, number of workers for the park system, and budget for new park construction.

Park It: Twin Cities parks among country's best

Minnehaha Park is one of the reasons Twin Cities parks gain accolades.

Taken in toto, these factors add up to an impressive showing.

“Any lesson we can learn from a city –- any best practice lesson –- we try to share with all the other cities,” said Harnik. "One practice we always point to for Minneapolis is its connectivity. Not only do they have a lot of park acreage, they actually connect the parkways with boulevards and trails and bike paths. Even if you don't live close to Lake Harriet or Wirth Park, for example, if you jump on your bike, or skis or skateboard, you can get there through these connected areas."

St. Paul's bike- and pedestrian-friendly bridges, he said, could be used as a template for other areas.

"There are cities where it's practically impossible to cross a bridge without a car, and here you have multiple bridges where that is possible, one of which (the Stone Arch Bridge) is totally car-free."

The biggest surprise in the report? A "discovery" of largest city park in the country. The organization added Anchorage, Alaska to their database for the first time, and was awed by the size of Chugach State Park.

“It's a state park, but it's all within the city limits of Anchorage," said Harnik. "The park is larger than Minneapolis and St. Paul combined, more than 500,000 acres. It's unlikely any city we study, no matter how how large, is going to come up with a bigger park.”

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