After four years of tireless work, two Brainerd moms are ecstatic at the prospect of moving forward with their plans to give the city a splash pad.

The location may have changed, but the effort has not.

Emily (Noble) Rolfson and Meta Mandich began the effort in 2016, talking with government bodies and trying to raise money to build the family-friendly attraction in one of Brainerd’s public parks. They got positive feedback from many other residents and the go ahead from the parks board and the city council to begin collecting funds. But with a $325,000 price tag, that feat proved difficult for two volunteers with full-time jobs and families.

“So you can about imagine how we’re both feeling at this point with the opportunity that’s kind of been laid in front of us,” Rolfson said during a phone interview Wednesday, April 29.

That opportunity is potentially rolling the splash pad into the upcoming redesign of Memorial Park in northeast Brainerd.

Originally, the splash pad was slated for north Brainerd’s Gregory Park. Rolfson said the centralized park near downtown already offered some of the plumbing features needed for the splash pad because of the fountain and now the new warming house with bathrooms. But a new location is far from a deal breaker.

A splash pad has been proposed for an open area of Brainerd's  Gregory Park. (Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch)
A splash pad has been proposed for an open area of Brainerd's Gregory Park. (Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch)

“We have never really been too picky with where it’s going to go, just because we have such great parks,” Rolfson said.

With Memorial Park scheduled to get many new amenities beginning later this year, Parks Director Tony Sailer said one of his board members came up with the idea to make the long-awaited splash pad a part of the project.

“It could be a good way to kind of join forces,” Sailer said Thursday, April 30. “I think the splash pad is something that is a pretty popular idea in talking to the residents of the community and the surrounding area.”

The city council allocated $1.3 million for the Memorial Park redesign, which aims to recoup some lost facilities come 2021 when the city loses access to Mill Avenue Park. Owner Mike Higgins decided not to continue leasing the park to the city after March 2021. Higgins also owned the parking lot at Memorial Park, which he agreed to sell to the city for $223,000. That cost will come out of the $1.3 million budget.

The first phase of the park’s redesign is expected to begin later this year and includes a warming house, pavilion, two hockey rinks doubling as pickleball courts in the warm months, a pleasure ice rink and lights for the hockey rinks. Sailer expects to send out requests for proposal for that phase of the project Monday, May 4.

When that part of the project is completed, Sailer said the parks board will regroup to see how much money is left in the budget for the rest of the park in 2021. The final budget is contingent on whether the parks department receives any funding from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s Outdoor Recreation grant. The city applied for $248,000 and could receive any, all or none of those funds. Sailer said he should find out by the end of June. Other new amenities proposed include a playground, horseshoe pits, bituminous walking/biking paths and upgrades to the softball field lights and concessions area. A splash pad could also be included in that.

A concept rendering of the proposed splash pad for Memorial Park, courtesy of Flagship Recreation.
A concept rendering of the proposed splash pad for Memorial Park, courtesy of Flagship Recreation.

Rolfson addressed the parks board Tuesday, April 28, to share more about the project’s progress. So far, she and Mandich have raised about $80,000 themselves, with another $1,705 donated on the group’s GoFundMe page. Brainerd Community Action is acting as the project’s fiscal agent.

The cost estimate for the 2,000 square foot splash pad — including a recirculating water system and several splashing, spraying and sensory stations on a brushed concrete pad — is $325,000. But that much money isn’t necessarily needed to get the project rolling.

“One of the things about splash pads is that they’re so adaptable,” Rolfson said. “So, say we don’t reach our full $325,000, well the great thing about it is … we can build the pad as big as it’s going to be, and then you can add and connect the actual pieces later.”

Rolfson added she knows of other potential donors who might step up if they know the project is going to come to fruition.

With that in mind, parks board member Kevin Yeager asked Tuesday if the city would be willing to put any money toward the project. City Council President Gabe Johnson was at the meeting and said the council might be willing to increase the Memorial Park budget to include the splash pad, or at least matching the private funds Rolfson and Mandich have already garnered.

“From my perspective, I think it would be worth having that conversation with the city council,” Johnson said. “I would be in favor in upping the budget for the Memorial Park to get the splash pad rolled in because Emily and Meta have been working so hard on this for so many years. It’s time to get it in.”

Johnson said he thinks Memorial Park is a better spot for the splash pad than Gregory Park, too, because of available parking.

The measure will likely come before the council in the near future, perhaps after a concrete cost is established for Phase 1 of the Memorial Park project.

In the meantime, Rolfson is excited to see all her hard work finally paying off, especially as she watched a splash pad open in Deerwood last year and one planned for Pequot Lakes soon.

“It’s time for Brainerd to get on board,” she said. “And now more than ever we’re going to need that economic bump. Once we open back up, we need to put ourselves back on the map.”

Kids play in the water Friday, July 19, at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new splash pad at the Deerwood Park playground. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Kids play in the water Friday, July 19, at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new splash pad at the Deerwood Park playground. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

And what better way to do that, from Roflson's perspective as a mom, than with a safe, affordable and fun summer activity hub for those all ages and abilities to come together?

“I can’t wait to just hear the kids laughing and smiling. And it’s going to be such an awesome thing,” Rolfson said, confident she will see a splash pad in Brainerd next year. “And by next summer, it’s going to be so much needed.”

For more information on the splash pad project, visit www.brainerdsplashpad.com or follow Brainerd Splash Pad on Facebook. Those wishing to donate can do so through GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-make-a-splash-in-our-community.



THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.