Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Planning for a destination park

I'm not generally a big believer in those "outside experts" that are so often brought in to reaffirm a local project. Sometimes, all we have to show for their involvement in community affairs is a check stub for several thousand bucks we'll never see again.

Somewhere in our archives, we have a big posterboard of some expert's 1970's plan to turn Storm Lake's downtown into a huge enclosed shopping mall by closing Lake Avenue and putting a big glass dome over the top. Hey, how's that coming?

More recently, we have comprehensive planners' sketches for remaking the town, which will never be much more than sketches. And that's okay, such things are largely entered into as exercises in imagination. It can be entertaining to see the notions that an urban outsider may see for a place that's someone else's home; it's often like watching a baby try to hammer a square peg into a round hole; it just doesn't fit, but they pound at it anyway.

In hiring David Ciaccio to plan for a proposed destination park for Storm Lake, however, that mold may be broken. Ciaccio seems like a fine mix of the visionary and the practical, and he is staunchly committed not to building the park he envisions, but the one Storm Lakers tell him they need. I think the money being spent on the planning can be a very good investment.

Of course, planning doesn't get the job done. We have yet to determine how to pay for all of those needs and wants. We don't yet have the designation for a State Park from state officials, or have access to some of the land and water resources that might be needed for some of the elements of the plan.

Such a project should not be expected to happen quickly, and should not be based on our blinding immediate wants and whims - but also on the directions we can envision for the community a generation and a century from now. We too much realize the fragile nature of our lakefront environment, and complement it, not overwhelm it.

Perhaps a first step will be to determine what we want a park to be. For some, that seems to be a tourism attraction and economic development, possibly boasting a large themed hotel, an elegant restaurant, a visitor center and the like. For others, it seems to be more recreational - an opportunity for trails, pool, fitness center. Still others see it as a way to recycle existing lakefront facilities - Cobblestone, the Harbor House, the old water plant - into community use again.

It was interesting watching Ciaccio meet with the new diversity task force - a group of Latino and Lao residents who are more recent in settling their families here.

They were very practical in their wishes, wanting enough park shelters that they wouldn't have to stake a place out at 6 a.m. to throw a birthday party. Lights to make it safer to walk on the trail at night. A place to fish out of Storm Lake's famous wind. A more complete playground for their children. A hill for kids to sled on in the winter. Do-able stuff, that, and an angle that it is good for our park planner to hear.

Personally, I do hope an aquatic center is somehow addressed. It's been too many years of fits and starts on a new pool, and the children of Storm Lake deserve better than what we have.

Of course, the beauty part of the project is that everyone imagines something a bit different. It is an intoxicating blank canvas at the moment, and the project could go any of several different directions, or try to encompass a bit of them all. Ciaccio, with a bucketload of experience in landscape architecture, will no doubt bring his own expertise to play in making whatever we imagine even lovelier and more fitting to the natural environment of the lakefront.

It's going to be a fascinating several months to see how the plan evolves - and how we will propose to take it from imagination to achievable reality.

We have seen ideas for community centers and such come and go. This one needs to be something we can see through.

Mr. Ciaccio seems to have the wit, curiosity and open mind to give us what we need to begin. It will be up to the community to make it go - and it will take the whole community, not just a committee.

Our consultant and local leaders are inviting comment and input, and they should get plenty in return for their willingness to listen. Now is the time to speak up.

This outside expert is different, and this project is different than any we have seen before.