Wirth Park and the Loppet Foundation

The following letter from Vida Ditter, a member of the Wirth CAC, was submitted on January 27, 2013, to Park Board Commissioners Fine, Tabb, Wielinkski and Young:



I wrote previously to strongly disagree with the Board’s decision to change the priorities set by the Wirth CAC which had taken some 2 years of collaborative discourse, a lot of learning, information gathering and balancing one good against another as CAC members worked on setting the priorities. It was a blow to have the MPRB ignore the priorities set by the CAC and instead give to the Loppet Foundation all the funds that the legislature had granted to the Park Board for Wirth Park. To my knowledge, and it was researched for the CAC by Park staff, the granting of these funds by the state legislature was given free and clear to MPRB, whether it was oversight that did not allocate the funds for “silent sports” in Wirth Park or whether the oversight was deliberate is not recorded in the minutes of the legislative session.

Now, MPRB has gone even further in disregarding the deliberations of the CAC and made the decision to grant a 20 year lease to the Loppet Foundation of a huge chunk of Wirth Park. On what grounds? To what benefit? With what return to the Park system? With what benefits to the Public? At what cost to the Public?

Rather than reviewing the contract that is being drawn between the Loppet Foundation and MPRB, I returned to the discussions the CAC had about activities in Wirth Park. Please note that I’ve been on all the Wirth CACs over the years.

On the most current Wirth CAC, as we worked on each segment of Wirth Park, MPRB staff appointed several non-CAC folk to work on Study groups that would focus only on the section of Wirth under study. Recommendations from the Study Group were to be brought before the full CAC for consideration and a vote. MPRB staff appointed several folk to the North Study Group. When the Study Group members were introduced to the CAC, I strenuously objected to the choices on the grounds that every single member of the North Study Group was the President or strong advocate of a sports organization – skiing, bicycling, X-sports, etc. I objected that not a single person on the Study Group was chosen from residents from neighborhoods surrounding Wirth Park, that not a single person on the Study Group was chosen to represent the schools that are within a short distance of Wirth, that not a single person was chosen from the current, various users of Wirth (golfers, sledders, the kids, the parents, etc.), that not a single member of the Study Group is a person of colour or a female.

I again strongly objected within the CAC when the North Study Group presented its recommendations. Others on the CAC supported my concerns. Firstly, I objected to the North Study Group’s creation of something they called “silent sports”. This was a concept the North Study Group created and then focused their efforts to promote only silent sport activities. This concept was not something introduced by the Wirth CAC. I objected to how they blithely recommended the demolition of parts of Wirth Park, north of Hwy 55 without regard to what they would offer those users who were being deprived of their sport. I objected to how the sports they were recommending were sports indulged in by those with some degree of wealth and who were mostly white, and although I was assured that each sports organization had an outreach program in schools and supported and coached student teams. But the numbers they coached did not nearly approach the number of public school students who have been taken through Wirth and who were helped to appreciate both conservation and the wonder of the parks in their communities. Nor did their outreach make of their sport a lifetime sport for those who came from less affluent backgrounds. I finally strenuously objected at being coerced to support their recommendations – ‘You’re invited to a private meeting (and used Park Property – the Chalet for their private meeting) where we’ll explain in detail what our recommendations mean”. I beg your pardon, there is a Wirth CAC, our meetings are where your recommendations should be explained and CAC meetings are open to the public. It is amazing how many times in this CAC process, the Loppet Foundation and its supporters have end – run the CAC and its recommendations.

At the end of the CAC process, CAC members set up their priorities. I reviewed my CAC notes to be sure my information is accurate. We talked at the CAC about creating partnerships with public and private entities to get the funds needed for the different Wirth priorities – e.g. MPRB and a store, MPRB and a bank, MPRB and the Loppet, MPRB and grants, MPRB and government or foundations, etc. Please note that the CAC discussions at NO time suggested/recommended MPRB to cede large sections of Wirth Park to the Loppet Foundation. Nor did the CAC recommendation suggest that the Loppet should be permitted to program that large segment of Wirth for the entire variety of users who come to Wirth (they do not have the skills to do this), after all – this is a Regional Park, supposed to serve the larger community, with funding from the State and Met Council in support of that goal.

Giving control of a large segment of Wirth to the Loppet is to give control to a group which has consistently avoided public feedback from the broader community as it has pursued getting its own needs met. The Loppet Foundation’s first foray into Wirth, several years ago, was to hire a private company to create its first trail which abutted the eastern boundary of Eloise Butler. It was only after many complaints from users of the Park and from neighborhood associations, and from the Audubon Society, and from cross country users on how intrusive Loppet trails were that a CAC was set up to determine where the trails should be in south Wirth and to wipe out the worst Loppet trail of the lot.

I would urge the MPRB to rethink its decision to give the Loppet North Wirth – to build, to program, to collect fees, for the benefit of “silent sports”. To do so, would be to abandon the responsibilities of MPRB to the larger public.

Thank you

Vida Y. Ditter