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City beautiful gets upgrade

Tom Doar does the honors as he cuts the ribbon to officially open the Doar Prairie Restoration park on the western edge of New Richmond.2 / 6
Tom Doar and his wife, Jean Selvig, stroll along the trail in the Doar Prairie Restoration park, with New Richmond resident Bill Driscoll following in the background.3 / 6
Tom Doar explains the history of the property.4 / 6
Interpretive signs are installed throughout the park.5 / 6
Posing near the monument sign.6 / 6

As Thursday's wind whistled through the native grasses and birds flitted among the trees, a small group of local folks gathered at Doar Prairie Preservation park to conduct a brief ceremony.

After about three years of development, one of New Richmond's newest park projects was ready to officially open.

Tom Doar, who donated the 14.67-acre parcel to the city in 2007, was on hand to cut the ribbon and provide a little history about the property.

Doar and his wife purchased the land about 40 years ago to protect it from poorly planned development. While the Doars considered several different options for development of the property, nothing ever materialized.

"It just never seemed to be a place for residential development," he said. "So we just left it alone."

When the city needed additional land to expand its wastewater treatment plant nearby, City Administrator Dennis Horner approached Doar asking if his land was for sale.

Even though the treatment plant eventually expanded to the south, the door for negotiations between the city and Doar had been opened. Horner asked the landowner if he would ever consider selling or donating the land so that the city could install a park.

Doar agreed, and an elaborate plan was developed for the proposed project. The estimated cost for playground equipment, shelters, restrooms and more totaled about $400,000.

Parks and Recreation Director Joe Kerlin balked at the plan, however, arguing that spending a big chunk of money on a park that was difficult to get to was a bad idea.

"I was irritated," Doar admitted. "But Joe was right. This was not the right place for picnicking."

Instead, Kerlin suggested that the land be converted to native prairie grasses and flowers.

"That made sense," Doar said. "This was done much cheaper than that fancy park. It turned out to be a win-win situation for everybody."

William Sanders, with Sanders, Wacker and Bergly Landscape Architects, was hired to develop the prairie restoration project.

"This is really a unique park for the City of New Richmond," Sanders said. "The city is really going to enjoy this park, and it will be a benefit to the environment."

The city hired Applied Ecological Services to implement the project and installation began in 2008.

The final work on the property will take place this fall, when a controlled burn is planned to help the native prairie thrive.

Matt Lash, with Applied Ecological Services, said the prairie is already well established - well ahead of the five-year timeframe that many restored prairies take to thrive.

Kerlin said the project has been a success, thanks to the hard work of city employees and consultants.

Now, Kerlin said, the people of New Richmond have to become aware of the park and start using it more often.

"It's probably the best kept secret in New Richmond right now," he said.

Doar said the park, from the highest point on the property, provides one of the best views of New Richmond around. He invited people to stop by and take a look.

The park includes about a mile of paved trails, perfect for hiking, biking or rollerblading. There are several beautiful stone benches where people can stop and rest, and several interpretive signs are placed throughout the park to help educate visitors.

City Council member Jim Zajkowski, who also serves as chairman of the parks committee, said the community thanks Doar for his generosity and his help in developing the park.

"Too often, when a community develops, people forget about the green spaces," he said. "I think it's very important for our community to have the foresight to plan for such parks."

The park is located along 115th Street and Business 64, across from New Richmond Golf Club. Access to the park is on the entgrance road to the New Richmond Wastewater Treatment facility (the first left on 115th Street).