A few weeks ago I saw a story on mpr.org about plans for the National Park Service to take over a little used section of land that is part of my current commute. The land in question is near Fort Snelling and was formerly home to Camp Coldwater. It's also home to half a dozen abandoned Bureau of Mines buildings. Many local cyclists are familiar with this area as it contains a trail that connects the southern end of Minnehaha Park to Fort Snelling. The mpr article was pretty light on the details, but said that "the land will be cleared of abandoned buildings and restored to its natural conditions." What of the bike trail, I wondered. Removing that could be a major thorn in my side and anybody else who wants to get from Minneapolis to points south without a motor vehicle. The article listed Paul Labovitz as the project supervisor, so I did a little sleuthing and found his email address. I sent him the following email:
Dear Mr. Labovitz,
I read of the National Park Service's plans to restore land near Ft. Snelling to its natural conditions. I was particularly interested in this project because I travel through this area nearly every day. I'm glad that the National Park Service is going to be doing something about the abandoned Bureau of Mines buildings, as I consider them to be an eyesore.
My main concern with the upcoming project surrounds the bike/walking path that runs adjacent to the Bureau of Mines buildings. This path is a critical link between Minneapolis and one of the few viable river crossings, the Mendota Bridge, that is available for non-motorized traffic in the area. The path is used by hundreds of cyclists on a daily basis and would leave many with no other options if it were closed for any length of time. Are there any details available about the upcoming project and its plans to continue to allow non-motorized traffic to pass through the area?
Thank you for your time.
Not expecting much, I went back to whatever I'd been doing before. But Mr. Labovitz surprised me with his quick response that same day:
Thanks for your note......
One of the primary reasons the National Park Service is stepping in to play
a more active role is to maintain the continuous open space along the river
between Minneapolis and St. Paul. An equally as significant reason for our
intervention is to maintain the existing recreational trail connections you
mentioned. One of this parks highest priorities is to see a class one bike
trail along both sides of the river and we play a role in promoting a
larger trail project called the Mississippi River Trail that will someday
connect the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks for your interest and
I hope when the public involvement process gears up you participate and
voice your opinion. I'll add your contact info to our growing interest
Well, I'll be dipped. Not only will the trail continue to exist, it sounds as though it will become some sort of uber-trail. I hadn't heard about the Mississippi River Trail, but I did some googling and liked what I saw. I've had thoughts about following the Mississippi before, by bike and by canoe. With such a trail running literally within a mile of my house, it seems too good to pass by.
Here's how it ties in to the Mendota Bridge, at least in my mind. One would guess that if the park service plans to add "a class one bike trail along both sides of the river" this would have to be good news for plowing. Don't get me wrong, MN/Dot does a decent job of clearing the bridge. They are fairly predictable and will normally clear the side path 3 days after any snowfall greater than 3 inches. I would think that the National Park Service would have standards at least this high, if not higher. If nothing else having the Park Service involved could make it more difficult for MN/Dot to decide to stop plowing the path, in light of recent budget issues.
I'm looking forward to watching this project from a unique perspective of somebody who is going to be riding through the project site on a (nearly) daily basis. I may head over there and snap some before pictures of the area before anything begins.