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Parkland named for Farmington's first parks director

Former Farmington parks and recreation director Jim Bell is pictured near the natural area that now bears his name.

Former Farmington parks and recreation director Jim Bell remembers well negotiating the purchase of a large chunk of parkland north of 195th Street, and he remembers the trees that had to be cleared so a pair of ponds could be constructed there, too. He planned the trail system near those ponds, and now all of Farmington can remember his contributions every time they use those trails.

That whole area, and a future park area to the east, has been named in Bell's honor - the Jim Bell Park and Preserve.

In full, the Jim Bell Park and Preserve will include 135 acres of parkland when it is complete. The ponds and the trails are already there -- thanks to Bell's work in his 27 years with the city of Farmington -- but future plans for the area include an athletic complex, a playground and more trails. Those are projects current parks and recreation director Randy Distad is working on.

The park area north of 195th has existed for years without any name or designation. The ponds have been nicknamed twin ponds, but that's about it. In October, Distad said, parks staff made a recommendation to the Farmington Parks and Recreation Commission that the area be named in Bell's honor. The city's park and facility naming policy requires candidates be a longtime employee or volunteer of the city and that they be a citizen or family of the community. The PRAC agreed Bell should receive the designation.

So, under the guise of asking Bell for some historical perspective, Distad called his predecessor and asked him to come to city hall one day.

"We just kind of dumped it on him," Distad said, "Oh, by the way, we'd like to name this after you."

Bell was surprised, to be sure. He's relatively certain the conversation could have been held over the telephone, but he's equally certain that parks staffer Kellee Omlid, who worked for Bell for years, "just wanted to see the look on my face," he said.

"It's kind of humbling," Bell said.

As Farmington's first parks and recreation director, Bell is credited with establishing much of the recreational opportunities for residents. When he started, only Rambling River Park, Evergreen Knoll Park and the swimming pool there were really in place. He was hired initially to run the new ice arena, he said. Back then, he had no idea he'd stay with the city for 27 years, nor did he have any clue of the impact his leadership would leave.

Bell developed a good portion of Farmington's trail system. He also helped to develop policies that required developers of new housing to designate space for smaller, neighborhood parks. Somehow, the trail concept and the neighborhood park concept just fell in together.

"Back in those days, that was the thing in park and rec. People were looking for walking trails, places where they could ride their bikes. We just thought that with these neighborhood parks, we should be able to ride a bike to them," he said. "As we got more and more neighborhood parks, we needed more and more trails."

The designation was made final during the Nov. 19 Farmington City Council meeting. At the meeting, mayor Todd Larson thanked Bell for his years with the city. In his younger days, Larson worked for Bell at the ice arena.

"The parks system would look nothing like it does now without your vision," Larson said.

Though he finds the designation both humbling and an honor, Bell does not take all of the credit for Farmington's parks and trails.

"This is unbelievable. I never expected such a thing," he told council members. "The parks department has really meant a lot to me. I couldn't have accomplished the things I did in 27 years without the staff I had. The people working with me. I just couldn't have done it without them.

In naming the Jim Bell Park and Preserve area, council members also agreed to spend $13,840 for five entrance signs for the parkland.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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