MANKATO — The transformation of Hiniker Pond Park from “the pit” to a modern multi-use recreational facility is the biggest project in Mankato’s five-year plan for its municipal parks. Hiniker Pond was originally a gravel pit used by Mankato teens and college-age swimmers/drinkers, despite trespassing laws, as an unsanctioned summertime hangout. Purchased by the city in the 1980s after a long campaign by young activists dedicated to saving “the pit,” Hiniker has slowly become a traditional municipal park with a restroom building, a shelter and a handicapped-accessible fishing pier constructed near the beach on the pond’s southern shore. More recently, after the city cracked down on drinking and smoking in the park, a new playground was added to create a more family-focused Hiniker Pond. In 2024, another $530,000 is to be invested in the 55-acre park to bring a sand volleyball court and a new shelter on its eastern side. A “fitness obstacle course” will include stations along the trail around the pond, something that will allow for exercise opportunities for people of varying degrees of physical fitness, said City Manager Susan Arntz. “It can be done well so that it works for seniors and non-seniors,” Arntz said. Improvements to Hiniker’s east side coincide with plans to redevelop the former Dutler’s Bowl and other properties between the park and Highway 169, a redevelopment that is expected to include construction of a new street — Hiniker Parkway — along the eastern edge of the park. The second most expensive project in the parks plan is aimed at another of Mankato’s larger parks — Rasmussen Woods Nature Area. In 2023, $375,000 is tentatively budgeted to replace the floating trail in the park. The aging trail through marshes on Rasmussen’s northeastern and southwestern sides allows nature lovers to experience the wetlands even when water levels are high in the spring and after heavy rains. The boardwalk is supported by buoyant barrels, allowing it to rise with the water. Major floods, however, have shifted the boardwalk in places, leaving it aslant as it rests partly on clumps of solid ground. Other parks are also slated for less costly upgrades, including Alexander, Lions, Erlandson, Busher and West Mankato. In 2022, $150,000 in restroom and shelter improvements are to be completed at Alexander Park at the top of the Main Street hill. Interior renovations to the restrooms were done in 2020, but more work is needed on the structure. The 30-year-old picnic shelter also will be renovated, and the park’s half-dozen tennis courts are to be reconstructed. Lions Park’s turn will come in 2023 with the removal of the park’s one small shelter and the construction of two new shelters — one near the playground and another on the opposite side of the pond for people looking for a more peaceful gathering space. Both shelters will have electrical power as part of a $125,000 project. Also in 2023, $200,000 is to be targeted at Erlandson Park near the intersection of Main Street and Victory Drive. New playground equipment is the major element, although park drainage also will be improved. Similar playground and drainage improvements totaling $200,000 are planned for 2025 in Buscher Park, which serves the residential area between Stoltzman Road and Monks Avenue south of the Minnesota State University campus. And West Mankato Park, along Woodland Avenue, is set for $225,000 in improvements the same year — for a new playground, a new shelter and other site improvements.

MANKATO — The transformation of Hiniker Pond Park from “the pit” to a modern multi-use recreational facility is the biggest project in Mankato’s five-year plan for its municipal parks.

Hiniker Pond was originally a gravel pit used by Mankato teens and college-age swimmers/drinkers, despite trespassing laws, as an unsanctioned summertime hangout.

Purchased by the city in the 1980s after a long campaign by young activists dedicated to saving “the pit,” Hiniker has slowly become a traditional municipal park with a restroom building, a shelter and a handicapped-accessible fishing pier constructed near the beach on the pond’s southern shore.

More recently, after the city cracked down on drinking and smoking in the park, a new playground was added to create a more family-focused Hiniker Pond.

In 2024, another $530,000 is to be invested in the 55-acre park to bring a sand volleyball court and a new shelter on its eastern side. A “fitness obstacle course” will include stations along the trail around the pond, something that will allow for exercise opportunities for people of varying degrees of physical fitness, said City Manager Susan Arntz.

“It can be done well so that it works for seniors and non-seniors,” Arntz said.

Improvements to Hiniker’s east side coincide with plans to redevelop the former Dutler’s Bowl and other properties between the park and Highway 169, a redevelopment that is expected to include construction of a new street — Hiniker Parkway — along the eastern edge of the park.

The second most expensive project in the parks plan is aimed at another of Mankato’s larger parks — Rasmussen Woods Nature Area. In 2023, $375,000 is tentatively budgeted to replace the floating trail in the park. The aging trail through marshes on Rasmussen’s northeastern and southwestern sides allows nature lovers to experience the wetlands even when water levels are high in the spring and after heavy rains.

The boardwalk is supported by buoyant barrels, allowing it to rise with the water. Major floods, however, have shifted the boardwalk in places, leaving it aslant as it rests partly on clumps of solid ground.

Other parks are also slated for less costly upgrades, including Alexander, Lions, Erlandson, Busher and West Mankato.

In 2022, $150,000 in restroom and shelter improvements are to be completed at Alexander Park at the top of the Main Street hill. Interior renovations to the restrooms were done in 2020, but more work is needed on the structure.

The 30-year-old picnic shelter also will be renovated, and the park’s half-dozen tennis courts are to be reconstructed.

Lions Park’s turn will come in 2023 with the removal of the park’s one small shelter and the construction of two new shelters — one near the playground and another on the opposite side of the pond for people looking for a more peaceful gathering space. Both shelters will have electrical power as part of a $125,000 project.

Also in 2023, $200,000 is to be targeted at Erlandson Park near the intersection of Main Street and Victory Drive. New playground equipment is the major element, although park drainage also will be improved.

Similar playground and drainage improvements totaling $200,000 are planned for 2025 in Buscher Park, which serves the residential area between Stoltzman Road and Monks Avenue south of the Minnesota State University campus. And West Mankato Park, along Woodland Avenue, is set for $225,000 in improvements the same year — for a new playground, a new shelter and other site improvements.

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