New Minnehaha Creek Preserve celebrated in St. Louis Park

Greg Swanholm, outreach director for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, strolls across a bridge over Minnehaha Creek July 23 at the newly opened Minnehaha Creek Preserve in St. Louis Park. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe) St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs cuts a ribbon at the new Minnehaha Creek Preserve July 23 with help from children from the Meadowbrook Collaborative. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe) A kayaker paddles up Meadowbrook Creek in a new preserve in St. Louis Park. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe) Trees provide a leafy roof for the Minnehaha Creek Preserve. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe) Duane Spiegle of Park Nicollet Health Services discusses work at nearby Methodist Hospital at the grand opening of Minnehaha Creek Preserve July 23 as St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs interacts with children from the Meadowbrook Collaborative. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)
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Duane Spiegle of Park Nicollet Health Services discusses work at nearby Methodist Hospital at the grand opening of Minnehaha Creek Preserve July 23 as St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs interacts with children from the Meadowbrook Collaborative. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)

Along with a large contingency of dignitaries gathered at the new Minnehaha Creek Preserve, neighborhood children who have been using the park gathered to celebrate its grand opening.

Under the shade of leafy trees along the creek, kids from the Meadowbrook Collaborative – a nonprofit that supports families in St. Louis Park’s Meadowbrook Neighborhood – joined St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs July 23 to cut the ribbon capping a celebration of the 39-acre preserve.

The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and St. Louis Park have worked in a partnership together on the project to restore natural curves to the creek between Meadowbrook Avenue and Louisiana Avenue in St. Louis Park. The new preserve includes 2,200 feet of boardwalk and 4,600 feet of paved trail.

Linda Trummer, outreach coordinator of the Meadowbrook Collaborative, noted educational specialists teach the children who are a part of the nonprofit about nature at the preserve.

“There’s always something new to find,” Trummer said.

The kids have been using the trails two to three times per week after construction wrapped up, she said.

“For the Meadowbrook Neighborhood, it’s a wonderful resource in the back yard, which really makes them feel like they’re a part of this community,” Trummer said. “I think it’s introducing the greater community to Meadowbrook in really a different way. It’s such a positive influence.”

The reaction fits with a goal of the city and watershed district to reintroduce the community to the creek, which had suffered from poor access in the area.

“As our community grew, unfortunately we turned our back to this phenomenal resource in Minnehaha Creek,” said St. Louis Park City Manager Tom Harmening in a statement. “Thankfully, by working with MCWD we’ve been able to turn toward the creek and weave the creek and all the benefits it provides back into the fabric of our community.”

The plan has had some success already.

“I can’t believe I live right up the block, and I have never been down here,” said St. Louis Park resident Bryan Miller as he stood on a new wooden platform overlooking the creek. “Now I don’t have any excuse.”

The platform provides signs to educate visitors about the creek and its history.

Meadowbrook Creek meandered naturally, but the stream had been straightened in St. Louis Park and Hopkins to accommodate growth. The area boomed after World War II, but the changes also degraded water quality along the 22-mile creek between Lake Minnetonka and the Mississippi River.

In particular, a stretch between West 36th Street and Meadowbrook Lake has generated the most pollution of any area along the creek, said James Wisker, planning and projects director for the watershed district. That has contributed to an impaired status for the creek and Lake Hiawatha downstream in Minneapolis.

A project to meander the creek in the area of the preserve wrapped up in 2013. The trails – along with two new canoe launches – build on that work.

The newly christened preserve also is an extension of similar work near Methodist Hospital to meander the creek again and provide improved access.

“It went from being a barrier to an asset,” said Duane Spiegle, vice president of real estate and support services for Park Nicollet Health Services. “It just allows everyone to enjoy the beauty of the area.”

By restoring the creek, storm water is better filtered and the slower water creates less erosion as well as fish and wildlife habitat, according to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

The district has plans to create an accessible area of green space along a corridor that extends to Cottageville Park in Hopkins. Plans for the eventual redevelopment of Hopkins Cold Storage near Blake Road also tie into the vision.

“This is one piece of one of the largest efforts in the Twin Cities to establish a greenway,” said Bill Bushnell, president of the watershed district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “This is eight to nine years of efforts in the making. This is a really good example of what happens when the whole community comes together.”

In addition to the city and watershed district, Excelsior Townhomes, the Japs-Olson Co., Meadowbrook Manor, the Minnetonka Rotary Club and the St. Louis Park Sunrise Rotary Club contributed to the project. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, which administers the Clean Water Fund, provided money for the project.

“It is no easy task to complete a major restoration of a stream in a heavily urbanized area, and it takes a lot of teamwork and creative problem solving,” said Steve Christopher of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

“This is the culmination of a long partnership that’s been very successful,” Jacobs said. “It’s a nice walk, too.”

Reflecting on the preserve’s location in the metro, Jacobs said, “That’s what’s cool about Minneapolis is you can be a really short distance from some of the most urbanized areas, and you think you’re in the North Woods, except for the occasional 747.”

“It’s a jewel,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins). “It really is a testament to what public and private partnerships can do. I can’t wait for it to be connected to Hopkins Cottageville Park.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene said, “Being in a space like this reminds you of how good it feels, and you want to come back for physical health and emotional wellbeing, too. It’s so great to be in this environment.”

Representatives from Health in the Park, a multiyear St. Louis Park initiative, also praised the scenery.

“It’s fantastic,” said Rachel Harris, a Health in the Park Active Connections Champion. “We’re always looking for ways we can connect the built environment to the natural environment through biking and walking. It’s a stunning setting.”

Fellow Active Connections Champion Anne Casey added the preserve creates a healthy and safe place for walking.

“The easiest thing to do to stay healthy is to walk out their door,” Casey said. “This is a beautiful place to do it.”

Thinking of the neighborhood children, Bushnell said, “That whole generation will grow up with a different attitude than if they didn’t have this amenity and a different outlook on life, hopefully.”

Of the creek, he added, “It’s been really fun to see it come to life.”

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]