Stretch of Minnehaha Creek in St. Louis Park to receive some TLC

Rubbish has collected in a stretch of Minnehaha Creek slated for reconstruction. The channel has limited accessibility between Louisiana Avenue South and Meadowbrook Road. The project would include improved and rebuilt canoe landings. Funding for a trail system has not been identified, though. (Photos by Seth Rowe – Sun Newspapers)

A completed section of Minnehaha Creek by Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. (Photo by Seth Rowe – Sun Newspapers)

A derelict stretch of Minnehaha Creek in St. Louis Park is about to receive some tender loving care, courtesy of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

The stretch of less than a mile between Louisiana Avenue South and Meadowbrook Avenue in St. Louis Park is difficult to access currently. Whether that will change as part of the work to re-meander the creek is still uncertain as funding for about $1 million in trails has not yet been determined.

However, the St. Louis Park City Council voted to approve an overall plan that would include restoring the creek to a more natural flow and course.

The plan would build upon a boardwalk and re-meandering project east of Louisiana Avenue along the Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital campus.

West of Louisiana Avenue, the creek is largely inaccessible along the project area, aside from two canoe landings and an informal, rough and largely unused path through the woods on the creek’s south side. Debris including old tires, a shopping cart, a bed frame, chairs and other trash has adorned the recently dry creek bed.

“A lot of folks living in St. Louis Park don’t even realize the creek goes through it because we have so few access points to it,” Councilmember Anne Mavity said at a Sept. 4 council meeting. “So I’m really excited to build on what Park Nicollet has already done in conjunction with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to really give all of us access to this waterway, for which we have very few opportunities.”

The planned project would add a meandering path to a stretch of channel that had been straightened decades ago, restore ecological functions and make stormwater improvements to treat and slow surface water that flows into the creek, according to a St. Louis Park staff report. The canoe landings would be reconstructed to provide better accessibility to canoeists, including those with disabilities.

The state government has designated Minnehaha Creek as an impaired waterway, noted James Wisker, director of planning, projects and land conservation for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

“There’s a burden on the communities and the watershed district to address that impairment,” Wisker said.

The project’s stormwater management plan would treat water in the area through a regional system in Hopkins. Storm runoff currently runs into the creek in the area untreated.

Plans also call for a formal trail using asphalt and a boardwalk as well as a bridge over the creek. The trail could connect with the trail near Methodist Hospital. However, funding for the approximately $1 million trail work has not been identified. The city does not have sufficient funding available, according to the city staff report.

“Right now we’re exploring every opportunity to kind of cobble together different pieces of funding,” Wisker said.

The watershed district has contacted the Metropolitan Council and Three Rivers Park District in an effort to obtain trail funding, Wisker said. In the meantime, the district intends to solicit bids that would contain an alternate proposal with the trail system if funding becomes available.

The St. Louis Park City Council formally approved an Environmental Assessment Worksheet and a conditional use permit for the project at the Sept. 4 council meeting, but Councilmember Julia Ross expressed concern about the lack of trail funding.

“I just want to say this seems a little highly irregular that we’re passing these motions,” Ross said.

“I do support them, so don’t throw your apples or whatever at me,” she added. “It’s just that we’re approving this but it’s a little odd that we haven’t secured the funding.”

The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District plans to pick up the costs of the re-meandering aspect of the project, with the help of a $300,000 Legacy Amendment grant, said St. Louis Park Planner Adam Fulton. The creek reconstruction itself is expected to cost about $1.2 million. The watershed district’s levy would be used to pay for the reconstruction costs beyond the state grant.

Mavity noted a trail system west of Louisiana Avenue would create creek access to residents of the more than 500 Meadowbrook apartments in the area. The trail would also travel near a development zone surrounding a planned Louisiana Avenue light rail station north of Minnehaha Creek.

Mavity said, “That’s a big deal to provide that kind of access.”

Reconstruction work is anticipated to begin after the ground is frozen as a way of minimizing damage to existing wetland vegetation. Work on re-meandering the creek would wrap up next spring.