The idea of using dredged sediment from Lake Mitchell to create a winter sports park is inching closer to becoming a reality.
Over the past couple months, a team of landscape architects have been developing the design of a proposed winter sports park that would feature a large hill for snow activities like sledding, tubing and snowboarding, along with all-season hiking and biking trails. At the recent Parks and Recreation Board meeting earlier this month, the finalized design of the project was presented and later approved, giving winter sports enthusiasts hope for a new go-to spot in Mitchell.
“This all looks really good. When I was growing up in Mitchell, we never had a legit snowboarding and sledding hill and had to go to Sioux Falls,” said Shawn Erickson, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board. “Kids will love this. I know my kids would sure love this, too.”
A 50-acre area on the west side of the lake that’s known as Firesteel Park is the proposed location for the winter sports hill. Lyle Pudwill, a representative of Confluence — the architectural landscape company that was tabbed to design the project — pointed to the size and “unique layout” of the area as an “ideal location” for the hill.
“With the existing biking and hiking trails that you have along the lake stretching into this area and public boat dock nearby, it makes for a great location to create this recreation hill,” Pudwill said. “There is a lot of potential here.”
However, the winter park hinges on a future lake dredging project and the Mitchell City Council’s support. For the project to materialize, the City Council would also have to support using the Firesteel Park area as the dredge spoil site -- the collection area for dredged sediment. Until that's decided, there is no official timeline for the project.
The idea of the winter sports park was drummed up by Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell, who has been looking for ways to bring more winter activities to the community since he took the role.
“We’re in a unique position to utilize our resources for this hill that would bring a lot of recreation opportunities to the community,” Powell said. "Aside from the (Lake Mitchell) amphitheater, we don't have really any other sledding and snowboarding hills to offer."
While the design phase in complete, cost estimates for the project have yet to be determined.
Features of the hill
The peak of the hill would hover a little over 80 feet from the base level at Firesteel Park, while the length is designed to extend roughly 400 feet.
A snow trail system for snowboarders, sledders and tubers would be one of the main features for the winter months. To make for optimal riding down the hill, Powell said the goal is to utilize snow-making machinery. The design shows the winter trail runs would be positioned on the northeast side of the hill, stretching toward the lake, which Pudwill said reduces the snow melt in the winter due to the position of the sunlight beaming on the hill.
“We designed this to have multiple levels of difficulty for both experienced riders and beginners,” Pudwill said. “With the snow-making, it will give us a way to cover the hill in areas where we have high activity in the winter. That’s how you would be able to keep the slopes with enough snow for riding down, even in dry years.”
While the snow trails will be a main attraction at the hill, there are several features that are designed for trail hikers and ice skaters. Among the notable features include an ice skating pond at the base of the hill and a multipurpose facility that could serve as a space to store rental equipment, such as sleds, ice skates and tubes. In addition, a parking lot with roughly 70 spaces at the bottom of the hill was included in the final design.
“On the northeast side of the hill, we want to capture a lot of the water and snowmelt runoff from the hill with a series of ponds at the bottom,” Pudwill said. “Around the multipurpose facility, there would be some lawn space and open area near the multipurpose facility for larger events like bean bag tournaments.”
Initially, the winter recreation hill was intended to primarily be utilized for snow sports, but that’s since morphed into an all-seasons recreation area. Powell said adding all-season amenities to the recreation area would provide “a little something for everybody.”
On the operation side of things, there would be a ski lift from the bottom to the top of the hill, which Powell called a “magic carpet” style lift. It functions like a conveyor belt that allows skiers and winter park users to stand on the conveyor lift to transport them to sections of the hill.
“You would pay for the ski lift, and there would be sleds available as well,” Powell said, noting a fee structure for the winter sports park has yet to be determined. “There are several ways we could generate revenue to help this work, but I’d like to get a plan figured out with the council before anything is decided.”
As for the hiking and walking trails that are proposed to be built within the hill, Pudwill suggested creating them with a gravel base surface. However, he said making some sections of the trails with asphalt surface could provide an outdoor walking space for “therapy patients.”
Addressing potential concerns
During the recent presentation of the finalized design, Parks and Recreation Board members were able to iron out some potential concerns they have with the proposed winter recreation hill.
Perhaps the most vital concern that was addressed came from board member Chris Retterath, who pressed project leaders on the process of containing the dredged sediment from seeping back into the lake. Considering cost estimates to dredge the lake have hovered between $8 million and $20 million, Retterath wanted assurance that the winter sports hill wouldn’t nullify a multimillion dollar lake restoration project.
“So we’re dredging the soil from the lake to get rid of the phosphorus, so how are we going to keep that from going right back into the lake by building the hill right next to it?” Retterath asked during a recent Parks and Recreation Board meeting.
According to Pudwill, the hill would be capped with some form of material that’s capable of containing the phosphorus-rich dredged sediment from leaking back into the lake. While he portrayed confidence in the process of containing the sediment, Pudwill noted the inquiry is “far from his area of expertise.”
“They will cap the dredged soil and there will be drainage from the hill that goes underneath it,” Pudwill said. “Once it is capped, we want to make sure that we control the runoff so the water can’t carry any phosphorus from the surface or into the groundwater and migrate across. I know there are methods to doing it from what I’ve been told by our team, and that will be a part of the next step with those experts.”
Powell provided examples of similar spoil sites that were placed adjacent to dredged lakes, which he said have effectively been capped. One of the examples he pointed to was a spoil site for a dredged lake in Nebraska.
“The multiple dredging firms we talked to said they cap it off and seal it off with material such as clay. … Generally, they do the spoil sites adjacent to the lakes to significantly lower the costs of the project,” Powell said, noting the proximity of the spoil site has a major impact on the cost of dredging.