by Dennis Dalman
Who should be allowed to cut deadwood in Sartell parks?
That question was the topic of a long discussion at the May 26 city-council meeting, part of the issue of “Park Boundaries” suggested by Sartell City Administrator Mary Degiovanni. City staff, she said, needs direction from the council about the question of wood-cutting. Should just residents adjacent to parks be allowed to cut wood? Should anybody who applies to cut park trees be granted a permit? What about liability concerns of the city should someone get injured?
The city, Degiovanni said, has become aware of encroachment issues where parks are adjacent to private property. The city, she added, is going to begin more stringent enforcement of park boundaries. That enforcement, she said, will also involve a probable permitting policy for volunteers cutting wood in parks.
Degiovanni invited two residents to the council so they could explain their wood-cutting for years in city parks. The two are Bob Pogatshnik, a former Sartell mayor and DeZurik employee; and Dennis Molitor, a former firefighter, former Verso paper-mill employee and long-time city volunteer.
In 1972, Pogatshnik, who was raised in Sartell, bought 21 acres of land on the east side of Northside Park. For years he chainsaw-cut deadwood from Northside Park – mainly busted limbs caused by storm damage. Later, he sold some of his land, and Dennis Molitor purchased some of it for his home. Shortly after the year 2002, the city began a permit process for people wanting to cut wood in city parks. Only five or six permits were issued because that is all the applicants there were. Pogatshnik showed the council his original permit from years ago, Permit Number 3.
Pogatshnik said he did not cut huge amounts of wood in the park, just deadwood, and he would accumulate one or two cords of wood at a time. Molitor said he cuts wood in the park not for his own use but for aesthetic and safety reasons. Part of Northside Park is used for disc-golf. Limbs on damaged trees and other tree debris could pose dangers for people golfing or walking through the park, Molitor noted. He also said he likes to keep the woods on that side clear of debris because it looks more aesthetically pleasing, being next to his yard. Molitor gives the wood away.
Pogatshnik said as far as the city’s liability concerns, he talked to his insurance agent who said he could provide him with a paper to give to the city that would absolve it from any liability issues should they ever arise.
Council member Steve Hennes agreed the city would have more liability concerns if tree debris or dangerous limbs were not removed.
Pogatshnik and Molitor both said wood-cutting is hard work and thus the city should not worry about lots of people rushing to apply to do it.
Several council members said people inexperienced with a chainsaw should likely not be permitted to cut wood. Other council members suggested the city park department should work with applicants to coordinate volunteer wood-cutting jobs and to be sure it is done safely. A wood-cutting club, similar to the volunteer gardening club in the city, could be started.
The council authorized the city administrator to further explore those options, with advice from insurance agents.
During the wood-chopping discussion, council member Steve Hennes asked Pogatshnik and Molitor if they had noticed a lot of tree-bark damage caused by discs being thrown during disc-golf activity in Northside Park. Such damage is extensive at St. Cloud’s Riverside Park, Hennes noted.
Pogatshnik was quick to answer “yes,” adding that vandalism to smaller trees in the park is a definite problem. As a frequent walker in that park, Pogatshnik said he has seen smaller trees that have been purposely broken to pieces, far more damage than scars from golf discs, he added. The trees vandalized include maples, birches, ash and small oaks.
Molitor said there will come a day when those young trees will have to be protected against vandalism. Hennes agreed, saying disc-golf should probably not be permitted in heavily wooded areas.