As the ground finally thaws after a long winter, construction workers are working to add a new place to stroll along Minnehaha Creek.
In what has been the most polluted stretch of the creek between Lake Minnetonka and the Mississippi River, St. Louis Park and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District have teamed to add a 1.3-mile trail system along the restored stream.
Over the winter, workers created a more natural path for the creek between Louisiana Avenue South and Meadowbrook Road, slowing the water and allowing natural vegetation and water filtration forces to help clean up the runoff from neighboring properties in an area with a heavy industrial presence.
“It gives nature a chance to clean up the water,” said Eric Evenson-Marden, district administrator for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.
The watershed district is also working with property owners to help prevent pollutants from reaching the creek.
Construction on a boardwalk nearly one-half mile in length and a bridge over the creek is already well underway, and workers planned to begin adding a paved trail when the ground thaws sufficiently.
The efforts in St. Louis Park are part of a larger watershed district plan to restore the creek and connect residents with it. The area under construction had been straightened decades ago to accommodate industrial development, which subsequently limited access to the creek.
Watershed district staff members hope that the trails will entice residents and visitors to dangle their feet in the water, listen to birds and view critters, Evenson-Marden said.
“Most importantly, it will be a place where you can relax,” he said.
The initiative fits in well with St. Louis Park’s goal of adding walking amenities citywide, City Manager Tom Harmening said. The paved trail, which will be cleared of snow in the winter, will connect Meadowbrook Neighborhood residents with a planned light rail station at Louisiana Avenue, he added.
A similar project has transformed a section of the creek on the east side of Louisiana Avenue by Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, Harmening added. He expects a similar transformation in the section now under construction.
“If you come back in three or four months, this will look 180 degrees different,” Harmening said.
The city and property owners in the past turned their back on the creek and treated it as a utility for stormwater runoff.
“Those times have changed, and now we’re turning to the creek and trying to find ways to leverage that,” Harmening said.
In the past, many people in the area likely didn’t know the creek existed unless they were canoeing down it, he said. The new project will allow people to access the creek without actually being in it in a canoe.
An overlook with interpretive signs will provide a place for overlooking the creek and surrounding wetland while new canoe landings in the area will offer access to visitors who do wish to travel down the creek.
St. Louis Park is paying about one-third of the cost of project’s total costs, which will be approximately $1.5 million. The city will also contribute to maintenance. Planners anticipate the trails will open next summer. A key point of entry will be St. Louis Park’s Izaak Walton Creekside Park, 7341 Oxford St.
Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]