Tag Archives: trail

River-to-River Greenway Questions

I’m a big fan of the River-to-River Greenway trail, a Dakota County project that will complete a regional trail through West St. Paul with a tunnel under Robert Street.

I’ve talked about why I think it’s an awesome idea and I’ve explored some misconceptions about the project.

I’ve also been accused of spreading misinformation about the project. That’s certainly not my intent. I’ve researched the original documents from Dakota County, talked to people involved and done my best to provide clear, honest answers. I’ve pushed to have an open dialogue about this project so we can consider all arguments and make the best decision.

With that in mind, I wanted to address some of the questions I’ve heard about the project:

  1. What’s it going to cost?
  2. Why a tunnel and not a bridge?
  3. Will a tunnel be safe?
  4. How will construction impact Robert Street?
  5. What about development?
  6. Can the River-to-River Greenway cross Robert Street anywhere else?
  7. What happens when the trail crosses Wentworth Avenue?
  8. Will the trail really see 140,000 people?
  9. Why do we say WSP Greenway?

Ready? Let’s dive into the details… Continue reading River-to-River Greenway Questions

7 Misconceptions About the Robert Street Tunnel

Dakota County has proposed a River-to-River Greenway trail through West St. Paul that includes the Robert Street tunnel. This isn’t a new idea. A separated crossing has been proposed in various incarnations going back to the 2001 Renaissance Plan.

The proposals have shifted over the years, the cost has changed dramatically and the funding has gone from $0 to 100%.  In all that time plenty of misconceptions have taken root.

I think the tunnel is a great opportunity for West St. Paul. So let’s look at some of the common misconceptions about the Robert Street tunnel that seem to be standing in the way of this project:

1. The Project is Too Expensive

The number one misconception about the Robert Street tunnel is that it’s going to cost West St. Paul too much money. A citizen comment at the Feb. 27 city council meeting urged the council to be fiscally responsible and reject the tunnel. But this is often based on earlier reports about the tunnel that had a higher price tag and no secured funding. Continue reading 7 Misconceptions About the Robert Street Tunnel

How to Make West St. Paul Awesome: The Greenway Trail

West St. Paul is “close to it all,” as our city motto proclaims, but we have an opportunity to not just be close to it all, but to be at the center.

Dakota County has a number of popular trails that encourage exercise, get people out into nature and connect communities. These trails also connect to wider regional trails throughout the Twin Cities.

West St. Paul has always been close to these trails, but barely a part of them. Thompson Park connects to Kaposia Park and eventually trails along the Mississippi River. But you have to get to Thompson Park. Last year a trail improvement project connected trails from Henry Sibley High School through the Dodge Nature Center to Garlough Elementary School. But the trail effectively ends at Marthaler Park.

Now we have the opportunity to complete the County’s River-to-River Greenway trail, routing it through the heart of West St. Paul and making our city part of a regional attraction. 

Dakota County wants to complete the River-to-River Greenway trail and add a safer pedestrian/bike crossing at Robert Street. They are currently considering a few options with a tunnel at Crawford Drive (the old Blockbuster property).

Such a route would send bikers and pedestrians past the library, YMCA, the Dome, City Hall and Marthaler Park, as well as within stopping distance of a number of businesses and snack spots on Robert Street. Dakota County projects the trail will see 140,000 people visits each year.

Could you ask for a better way to highlight West St. Paul? Continue reading How to Make West St. Paul Awesome: The Greenway Trail

Discovering Mankato

This past weekend Abby and I left the kids with the grandparents and went to Mankato, Minn., for a weekend away. We also took part in the inaugural Mankato River Ramble bike ride. It was a great bike ride with gorgeous fall colors and actually got me to explore Mankato for the first time. I’ve never been to Mankato before (except for maybe driving through on the way to somewhere else), but I was floored by the beautiful river views and waterfalls. I love discovering gems like this so close to home.

Growing up as a kid vacations were mostly lengthy affairs that involved loading up the family minivan and driving across the country. We’d see incredible sights but it also took an incredible effort. While I loved those vacations, it’s also left me with the idea that I have to go across the country to see amazing sights. I never quite realize what’s in my own backyard, which is something I’ve been discovering about the Twin Cities and Minnesota since I first moved here more than a decade ago.

Mankato was no exception. We came across not one but two incredible waterfalls (OK, water trickles—it’s been dry lately) and according to the map there are a few more in the area. At times it felt very much like Kansas, with flatness stretching as far as you could see. Our hotel seemed to be on the very edge of city as developments gave way to corn fields. Pickup trucks also ruled the road. But then there were rolling hills and curving rivers—yes rivers, with the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers, as well as a number of tributaries.

On Saturday morning we took a drive along a river bottom road with signs warning about flooding, falling rock and minimal maintenance. It was beautiful. And empty. We came upon the Minnemishinona Falls and found the place deserted. Didn’t see a soul the entire time we wandered around the footbridge and among the rocks. Later in the day we explored downtown, which didn’t exactly sport a shopping district as advertised, but did have a few unique shops (Mary Lue’s Yarn and Ewe and the Sticks and Stones boutique earned a thumbs up from Abby). We also wandered around Mankato State University just for kicks.

Minneopa FallsOn Sunday we biked through Minneopa State Park along with the other 1,500 Mankato River Ramble riders and took in the Minneopa Falls. Another trickle, but incredible just the same.

We drove home Sunday afternoon (with a stop at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store) and I couldn’t help but feeling like we’d only scratched the surface of Mankato. There were paths we didn’t follow, restaurants we didn’t get to try and one strange glassed-in door of an old house we never did figure out.

Speaking of old, Mankato also has the history as well. It has the dubious distinction of being the site of largest mass execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota were hanged for their part in the Dakota uprising of 1862 (303 were sentenced to death but President Abraham Lincoln pardoned 265). This little historical rabbit trail brings up a number of interesting details, including the story of Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple who argued for leniency, an unpopular stand (to say the least) among settlers who were being slaughtered and wanted justice.

I imagine we’ll come back to ramble around Mankato another time.

 

Rock Island Swing Bridge

Rock Island Swing BridgeYesterday I went for a 20-mile bike ride. I think that’s a little too much distraction. My goal was to make it down to the new Rock Island Swing Bridge in Inver Grove Heights that’s been converted to a pier. The ride down was great. The ride back? Not so much.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the trail I cataloged for a National Park Service trail guide back in 2000 has been extended almost all the way to the Rock Island Swing Bridge. There are plans for more amenities at the bridge, including a 55-acre park that should make it even more of an attraction.

So what is it? It’s a 670-foot pier that extends halfway out into the Mississippi River. Originally built in 1894, the double-decker bridge carried trains and vehicles across the river. Trains went on top and vehicles on the bottom. Supposedly John Dillinger used the bridge as an escape route when evading the FBI. It was closed to trains in 1980 and traffic in 1999.

Rock Island Swing BridgeIn 2001 the Coast Guard ordered its removal as a potential disruption to river traffic. A section of the eastern half of the bridge collapsed in 2008 and demolition was imminent. In 2009, a month before the scheduled removal of the western half of the bridge, the governor and legislature offered a reprieve, likely thanks to a bridge tour the National Park Service hosted in 2008 to gauge public interest. Nearly 700 people showed up and waited in long lines all day to get a chance to walk on the old bridge.

The bridge (at least the western half) was finally saved thanks to a federal grant, state aid disaster funds, county and city funds, the Minnesota Historical Society and a local fund drive, totaling $2.3 million. Construction was delayed by flooding and then a fire, but last week the pier opened to the public.

Rock Island Swing BridgeSo is it worth it? That’s the question another Rock Island Swing Bridge visitor posed when I was there. I looked around for my answer. This is it. Where else can you find these views of the Mississippi River? I’m not aware of any other pier like it in the Twin Cities area, and maybe not on the rest of the Mississippi. It gives Inver Grove Heights public access to the river (most river front property is either private clubs or industrial land) and a major destination.

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