Filling in the Missing Link

Calling it a historic moment, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted unanimously — and excitedly — at its Sept. 3 meeting to approve a committee’s recommendations on the Missing Link of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System.

Commissioners called the report, presented to the Board in June by a Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC), only the beginning of what could be a decades-long process to bring Northeast into the Grand Rounds and finish a circle proposed way back in 1883. When it’s all said and done, people will be able to bike from Southwest around Minneapolis, all the way back to Southwest.

Here’s what you need to know.

A bit of history

The idea of a completed Grand Rounds is as old as the Park Board itself.

In June 1883, Horace Cleveland wrote a “Suggestion for a System of Parks and Parkways for the City of Minneapolis,” a popular blueprint that ended up guiding Park Board leaders for years. Several years later, now-legendary Superintendent Theodore Wirth took those ideas and implemented them in a manner that fit the growing parks system.

Early connective construction focused on the high points of the Minneapolis parks system, including the Chain of Lakes, West River Parkway and Minnehaha Parkway. But a three-mile gap in Northeast was left behind.

It was in 1939 that the Park Board ordered its last study attempting to fill in the so-called Missing Link. That effort followed on the heels of failed plans prepared in 1930, 1918 and 1910.

Nothing developed. According to a technical advisory committee’s study for the Park Board, the presence of wetlands made construction in Northeast difficult. A large, profitable gravel mine proved to be an obstacle until the 1950s, and then industrial and railway development became a challenge.

The idea of filling in the gap was left to roost until a few years ago.

Where is the Missing Link?

Basically, Northeast Minneapolis.

The Park Board made it a major goal in its comprehensive plan, approved last year, to emphasize putting more parks in that part of town, as the system currently leans heavily toward the south.

The CAC report recommends several locations for new parks that would make the area even more of a destination, including a park dubbed Ridgeway Overlook Park, off of Stinson Boulevard & Ridgeway Parkway, and Southeast Como Community Park, by Como & 29th avenues.

The Missing Link route, as proposed by the CAC, would begin at Stinson Boulevard and St. Anthony Parkway and head east along Gross National Golf Course. It eventually would end at East River Parkway.

A small controversy

Perhaps less a controversy than a major neighborhood concern, the CAC report suggested expanding a bicycle path on Stinson Boulevard. That didn’t sit well with neighborhood residents, who expressed worry over the safety of such a move.

Dozens appeared at three separate public hearings after the report’s first appearance, and the arguments were mostly the same: There are already traffic issues, and it would be unfortunate to knock down the trees.

Lois Kelly, who lives on Stinson, presented the Park Board with a 519-signature petition.

A full-blown fury has been avoided. When the commissioners approved the CAC report on Sept. 3, they did so with three modifications, including one that took out the Stinson recommendations.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, whose district contains the Missing Link, said the issue wasn’t worth holding up the entire project.

So, it’ll be done soon?

With the commissioners’ approval, does that mean the link will be filled in the next couple of years? Not so much.

For one thing, funding is a major challenge for the Park Board, which already is under a constant budget crunch. The board also does not yet own all of the land it needs to complete the project.

No one knows exactly when the Grand Rounds will be complete, but commissioners are expecting it will be some time — probably decades.

“Who knows how long it will take,” Commissioner Bob Fine said. “But we’re moving ahead.”

FYI

• Since 1998, it has been the nation’s only urban system designated a National Scenic Byway, as designated by the United States Department of Transportation.

• Since 2000, it has been a state-designated State Scenic Byway.

• The first time the Grand Rounds was suggested, Lucius Hubbard was the governor of Minnesota, Chester Arthur was president of the United States and the state of Minnesota was just 25 years old.

• The last time the completion of the Grand Rounds was attempted, Harold Stassen was the governor of Minnesota, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the U.S. president and current presidential candidate John McCain was three years old.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about the Grand Rounds and the Missing Link project, go to www.minneapolisparks.org.