Work with two local groups is bringing change to Soldiers Field Memorial Park.

On Monday, the Rochester Park Board unanimously approved plans to resurface the park’s track after working out an agreement with the grassroots Save The Track group. The board also gave a nod to efforts to create a law enforcement memorial in the park.

"I think it’s a great opportunity for the private sector and the public sector to get together and work this out," Park Board Member Dick Dale said of plans for the track.

It was a statement he and other board members echoed when discussing the law enforcement memorial.


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Work on the track could start this fall after the Park Board approved a $269,852 bid from Rochester Sand and Gravel.

Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said the work will be divided into two parts; the first will create a drivable surface by the start of Rochesterfest in June, and final work is scheduled to be completed in July.

Along with approving the bid, the board finalized an agreement with the Save The Track group, which calls for the Rochester Track Club to fund maintenance efforts related to the new track surface. The agreement calls for starting with a $3,000 annual maintenance payment.

Gwen Jacobson, an organizer of the Save the Track campaign, said the group has already banked approximately $13,000 from an online fundraiser and other efforts. The funds will create a maintenance account handled by the track club.

Earlier this year, the Park Board was planning to pave the track, using funds provided by the Rochester City Council. The group of local runners started the effort to push for an optional surface and design, which comes close to the original cinder track.


In addition to approving the next steps for resurfacing the track, the Park Board also moved forward with efforts to create a law enforcement memorial in the park. The proposed memorial will be west of George Gibbs Drive at Seventh Street Southwest.

The group planning the memorial, the Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation of Southeast Minnesota, was formed to honor fallen city, county, state, federal and military officers operating within the Minnesota State Patrol’s District 2100, which covers Rice, Steele, Freeborn, Mower, Dodge, Olmsted, Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties.

The group presented early plans to the Park Board in the past and worked to address concerns.

Park staff members report some details remain to be added to the latest plans, but the effort could move forward with construction slated to start next year. Plantings and key elements of the memorial could be installed by next fall.

"It’s going to continue to be tweaked until everything is in the ground," said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson, who is part of the group working to create the memorial

The plans call for creation of flower gardens similar to those outlined in the park’s master plan, but also adds walkways around the memorial dedicated to fallen officers. It will also include an outdoor exercise circuit training site, which is expected to be added in a second phase of the project.

The Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation of Southeast Minnesota also plans to fund memorial maintenance efforts after it is built.

Here’s a look at the history of the Soldiers Field Memorial Park track and how it’s plans for an update evolved:

1924— Land for the future park is purchased from Dr. Christopher Graham by the American Legion, which started development of a golf course in 1925.

1927— The Legion transfers the property to the city, with the understanding it be developed into a recreational area.

1929 to 1958— The park’s track and football field are used by the high school under an agreement with the parks department.

1971— The Rochester Track Club held its first all-comers track meet at Soldiers Memorial Field Park.

June 2015— Rochesterfest moves the bulk of its activities to Soldiers Memorial Field Park, using the track to stage food trucks. The move followed the loss of available space along Third Avenue Southeast with the expansion of the Mayo Civic Center.

November 2016— Rochester Park Board adopts a Soldiers Memorial Field master plan, calling for expanded uses of the track as a festival grounds, with possible alteration of the track.

March 18, 2019— Rochester City Council provides $850,000 to reconstruct the Soldiers Memorial Field Park parking lot and pave the nearby track. The funds are part of a surplus from the 2018 city budget.

April 2, 2019— Community members voice concerns about the option for paving the track. The Park Board delays a decision.

May 7, 2019— The Park Board votes 3-1, with three members not voting, to move forward with seeking bids to pave the track.

July 22, 2019— An online fundraiser aimed at saving the track is started.

Aug. 13, 2019— Park Board opts to delay decision on paving the track, while moving ahead with parking lot plans. The delay allows the opportunity to seek bids related to an alternate surface.

Oct. 23, 2019— Bids for the alternate surface are opened, with the lowest coming in below the anticipated costs of paving the track.

Oct. 28, 2019— The Park Board approved a construction bid for the track, as well as a maintenance agreement with the Save The Track.

New Soldiers Field track plan emerging

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