By Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem
“The Future belongs to those who invest in Today and have a Hope for Tomorrow.” —Author unknown
On Friday, May 23, the “Taylor Chebet Twitchell Playground” will become a reality in Little Falls. The Mayor’s Youth Task Force is preparing for a community build May 23-25.
Committee members and volunteers will save the project $30,000 by installing the equipment under the guidance of an engineer from Landscape Structures. The playground will be located on the former MnDOT property just off Edmund Street, northeast of Little Falls. The city of Little Falls received a $100,000 donation from Paul and Emily Twitchell in memory of their infant daughter, Taylor Chebet Twitchell, who passed away at birth. The playground will be named after Taylor.
In January 2010 the Little Falls City Council approved the formation of the “Mayor’s Youth Task Force” to gather information from local youths, other groups and organizations regarding youth needs and make recommendations to the City Council in reference to their findings. They will coordinate and facilitate shared community projects that impact the lives of young people.
The Task Force partnered with Healthy Communities Collaborative and the Boys and Girls Club and sponsored a gathering, “Pizza with the Mayor,” attracting 75 plus kids and adults.
After much discussion and brainstorming, the kids and adult mentors came up with several projects they wanted to tackle, including a Splash Pad and All Wheel Park. Much research was done through the internet, visiting other communities with similar projects, and contacting companies who install splash pads and all wheel parks.
The Task Force notified City Council and met with city staff to see what land was feasible for the two projects. Our research revealed that area parks were not suitable for the projects.
In 2012, we discovered the MnDOT property, located north of Little Falls, that was part of the old trunk Highway 371. We contacted MnDOT and found that they were asking $110,000 for the 20 acres of property. Working with Sen. Gazelka’s office and the commissioner of MnDOT, we were able to acquire the land for free, as long as the property was utilized for public purposes in perpetuity.
The Little Falls City Council accepted the land for public use and developed the “The Little Falls Community Recreation Complex Task Force” (LFCRCTF). The task force was to access the recreational needs in Little Falls and develop a recommendation to the City Council. The committee readily moved forward while the Mayor’s Youth Task Force started securing grants and working through budget, design and management issues as well as long-term maintenance costs.
In August 2013, the city of Little Falls received a $100,000 donation from Paul and Emily Twitchell to go toward playground equipment at the proposed Splash Pad and All Wheel Skate Park site.
In October 2013, Short Elliott and Hendrickson (SEH) was hired by the city with funds that had been donated to the Mayor’s Youth Task Force. From the recommendation of the LFCRCTF, SEH presented to the Council sketches of the possible layout of a recreational complex that, one day, may include baseball fields, a community center, disc golf, a horseshoe and picnic area, basketball courts, a doggie park, parking, a splash pad and an all-wheel park.
In March 2014, the City Council officially named the MnDOT property site as the Little Falls Area Recreation Center (LFARC).
The Mayor’s Youth Task Force is committed to developing the playground, splash pad and all-wheel park without taxpayers’ money. They have worked with determination these past four years to make this project a reality in Little Falls.
To date, the Youth Task Force has acquired free land from MnDOT, playground equipment from the Twitchell family, several additional donated playground pieces from Landscape Structures, engineering services at a much reduced rate from SEH, free shipping of the playground equipment by Little Falls Dray, excavating services from Eagle Construction, use of equipment and services from Brothers Exteriors and Van’s Construction, totaling over $300,000.
A Grants Committee has been meeting on a regular basis seeking and applying for grants, and another group, ARC Boosters (a non-city group), has formed and applied for non-profit status to do fundraising for the projects.
The potential impact to the area is more than just a large playground for our citizens. It’s a place where people from all walks of life can gather for picnics, walking, hiking, biking, exercising, playing in the water and so much more. It will be an additional draw to Little Falls for new families, health professionals, housing development, business development and tourism.
I am extremely proud of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force and the work they’ve done. I believe together we can make this project a reality in Little Falls.