Balancing wilderness, recreation along Minnehaha Creek 

A biker travels under the Nicollet Avenue bridge along Minnehaha Creek
A biker travels under the Nicollet Avenue bridge along Minnehaha Creek, where planners imagine a more developed, welcoming park space in the future. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

A key question has emerged as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board develops a master plan for the Minnehaha Creek corridor: What’s the proper balance between wilderness and recreation space?

The Minnehaha Creek Master Plan, one of several regional park and service area master plans the MPRB is currently developing, is within sight of the finish line with some key debates still lingering.

“The creek corridor is largely undeveloped,” Adam Arvidson, project manager for the MPRB, said.

There are spots of developed recreation in the area, like the set of four tennis courts near Morgan Avenue South in Lynnhurst. But initial concept designs call for more pedestrian bridges, raising pedestrian and bike trails out of the floodplain, public art, natural play areas, picnic spaces and bike parks. The initial concept designs include adding five additional water access points in the Southwest portion of the creek and putting in a new active space under the Nicollet Avenue bridge.

Right now, planners and members of the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) are trying to determine just how much development to add and how to implement “planned natural areas” where native trees and grasses can be planted to help stabilize the creek banks and combat invasive species. Several areas today that featured mowed grass might be converted to more natural prairie spaces. The designs also call for a daylight stream between Lake Harriet and the creek and for adding several creek meanders and cascading pools meant to store excess water and prevent flooding.

Rick Duncan, a Tangletown resident who is on the Minnehaha Creek Master Plan CAC, said some people are resistant to managing the creek’s wild spaces, but he believes strategic management can create good, natural spaces.

“The desired future condition is what people think of a natural area,” Duncan said, adding that getting there will require management.

Arvidson said planners heard in a round of early comments that they may have put in too many designed recreation spaces in their initial concepts.

“Folks really do want to see more enhanced natural character,” Arvidson said.

Future of cars on the parkway 

Minnehaha Parkway was initially created for the purpose of “pleasure driving,” according to MPRB history, but today one of the big questions planners are weighing is how much of the current five-mile stretch of one- and two-way streets should stay open to vehicles or serve as a commuter corridor for drivers.

Arvidson said increasing separation of pedestrian and bike paths is an area of consensus for planners, but debates are continuing over an idea in the initial concepts to close the south side of the parkway in Tangletown to cars and make it a wide shared route for pedestrians and cyclists.

“I’d say that’s an open question,” Arvidson said, adding that the decision is one of the hardest for planners to decide.

Next steps

The MPRB plans to release its preferred concepts for the creek corridor at the end of May, which will be followed by another series of Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings in June and July to establish final recommendations. Once those recommendations are made, there will be a 45-day public comment period followed by a public hearing and, finally, a Park Board vote for approval.

Initial concepts for the creek divided the corridor into four segments, two of which fall west of Interstate 35W. Planners and CAC members are going through 24 pages of comments collected from various online and in-person outreach efforts.

“We are right now in the midst of digesting everything everyone has said,” Arvidson said.