A couple weeks ago I spoke at a West St. Paul city council meeting for the third time in three months.
This is starting to get a little ridiculous, right? You might think I have aspirations to run for office, but if you’ve seen any of those appearances it should be clear that I do better behind a keyboard than a podium.
I’m speaking up a lot because I’m convinced with the current political climate we can no longer just sit back and assume everything is OK. So I’ve gone to council meetings and spoken out against firing a city manager, for accepting a grant for sidewalks (which later passed unanimously), and most recently I spoke in support of the River-to-River Greenway trail.
If you’ve been following my blog or social media lately, you may have noticed that I don’t stop talking about that trail. It’s the proposed River-to-River Greenway trail and Robert Street tunnel in West St. Paul. I’ve blogged about it, tweeted, shared on Facebook and talked about it in person. I’ve contacted my city council members, I’ve met with local leaders, I’ve attended meetings, I helped with a Rotary Club presentation. I talked at city council and wrote a letter to the editor.
So why won’t I shut up?
Because I think this trail is a great opportunity for West St. Paul.
But if we don’t support it, it won’t happen.
Part of the problem is that not everyone knows or understands all the facts. This plan has been around in various forms for a while and the details have changed over the years. It’s easy to get lost or confused on what specific details we’re talking about.
And more often than not, when I tell people about the whole plan, they say it’s a no brainer.
So I want to keep having these conversations.
That’s why I keep talking about it. But I don’t know if that gets to the heart of why I’m so invested. Why this cause? Why this particular issue?
Here’s why I care so much…
I Like Outside
I like the outdoors. I grew up visiting National Parks across the West with my family. I love visiting Minnesota State Parks and discovering nature I’ve never seen before.
I shouldn’t overstate the case—I’m just a casual outdoors person. But it’s one of those things I find relaxing.
There’s something about getting outside:
- The feel of the warm sun on your skin.
- The crunch of leaves in the fall.
- An incredible view that makes you stop.
- Coming upon a deer and watching each other for a moment.
- The relentless movement of water.
I love those things.
Working for the National Park Service
In college I spent a summer interning with the National Park Service at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. It’s a unit of the National Park Service that follows the Mississippi through the Twin Cities. It’s one of the weird National Parks that doesn’t have their own park. They own a few small pieces of land, but mostly they work with state, county and city governments and nonprofit organizations to preserve, protect and enhance green space and recreation opportunities.
I didn’t grow up in the Twin Cities and I’d only lived here for a couple years when I landed this internship. Suddenly I had a crash course in Twin Cities parks and the glory that is the Mississippi River. Previously I only ever driven over the Mississippi, usually on a freeway. Now I was going beneath those concrete bridges and actually connecting with the river.
My job was to write a trail guide, and thankfully my boss kept editing out my clunky references to concrete until I got the hint.
During my first week on the job I went on a bike ride from Minneapolis to St. Paul and back. I think we started at Boom Island Park and went all the way down to the Ford Parkway Bridge, crossed and then went all the way back to Boom Island. It’s probably a 16-mile loop (let’s not talk about how out-of-shape I was).
Seeing all those interconnected trails was incredible.
Since my job was to write the trail guide, I had to go out and ride those trails and explain all the hard to follow sections. I quickly gained an appreciation for simple connections that allowed a short ride to turn into a much longer one.
Five or six years after I finished that trail guide, graduated and was doing freelance work, the National Park Service brought me back as a contractor to update the guide.
It was fun to see how many new connections there were, how many trails had been added and new ways that residents could connect to the river.
Sometimes I think we don’t know how good we have it.
Preservation Requires People
And we have those good things because somebody fought for them.
I’ve seen a few #ThrowbackThursday pictures online that show what the Dodge Nature Center and Garlough Elementary School looked like back in the 1950s.
Basically there were no trees. You see all this empty farmland, and today it’s been preserved and restored. Dodge Nature Center is a massive stand of natural land in the middle of West St. Paul. It could have easily been turned into more suburban streets and houses, but the visionary work of Olivia Irvine Dodge saved that land for future generations.
It’s one of my favorite places to run in West St. Paul (even if it takes me a mile and a half to even get there) because you can slip into the trees and the rest of the city falls away.
But it only exists because people made a special effort to preserve that land.
The River-to-River Greenway Legacy
I see the River-to-River Greenway as a similar legacy. There are trails all around the Twin Cities, but none of them go through West St. Paul. Dakota County is trying to connect those trails and bring them right through West St. Paul, so we have this opportunity.
It requires a safer crossing for Robert Street—no regional trail should have to cross a busy four-lane street—so we need a tunnel. And it’s all paid for! But the city council support isn’t there, so we need to step up and let them know this is a legacy West St. Paul residents want.
It’s a trail that connects some of the best green space in West St. Paul, from Dodge Nature Center through Garlough Park and Marthaler Park to Thompson Park. On the west end it connects to the Valley View trail, the 35E Bridge, Big Rivers Regional Trail and Lilydale Park. On the east end it connects to Kaposia Park, Kaposia Landing and South St. Paul’s Mississippi River Trail. When St. Paul completes another trail in 2018 it will be part of a 14-mile loop. You could bike all the way to Minneapolis and beyond or down to Inver Grove Heights and (eventually) Hastings.
More than just a tunnel or some crazy idea that will only appeal to spandex-wearing bike fanatics, the River-to-River Greenway trail is an opportunity to loop West St. Paul into a natural and cultural heritage that makes the Twin Cities an amazing place to live.
It showcases our town and gives our residents an avenue for biking and walking that doesn’t require fighting with cars or worrying about safety. It’s the kind of infrastructure improvement that will pay dividends for decades.
I think that’s amazing. Hopefully you can understand why I won’t shut up about it.
Support the Greenway
If you agree that I shouldn’t shut up, please join me in this effort. There are two simple things you can do to help:
More on the River-to-River Greenway:
- Visit Dakota County’s River-to-River Greenway page for project reports, factsheets, and more.
- Like the WSP Greenway Project page on Facebook for more details and updates.
- Read my post, How to Make West St. Paul Awesome, for a detailed account of the benefits of the trail.
- Read my post, 7 Misconceptions About the Robert Street Tunnel, for more questions and critiques.
- Read my post, River-to-River Greenway Questions for more answers about the project.