Take a walk on the water

Lush river valley vegetation grows on either side of the boardwalk at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Photo by Linda Koutsky

I love boardwalks! There’s nothing like walking on a wooden plank sidewalk over a marsh or lake. Sometimes they’re gently floating on the surface; other times elevated like a dock. Cattails and lily pads, croaking frogs, the chirping of Redwing Blackbirds are all around. It’s kind of like being in a boat except you can walk.

My favorite boardwalk escape is at Wood Lake in Richfield not far from the busy intersection at 66th and Lyndale. This hidden gem has woodchip walking paths through forested areas all around Wood Lake. I’ve seen muskrat, egrets, turtles, and even deer. A beautiful s-curve boardwalk slices through marsh and open water. The boardwalk loop is an easy 20-minute walk. (Go right in front of the Nature Center, veer left at the fork. Turn left at the end of the boardwalk to return.)

I had seen photos of the boardwalk near the Minnesota River but had a hard time finding it until recently. Poor online maps and a lack of signage at the trail head make it difficult. To help get you there, type this in your GPS: 9407 Old Cedar Ave. S., Bloomington (it’s a sweet little garden center that’s actually been in business right there since 1919!!). Keep going a little further until you see construction cranes —they’re in the midst of restoring the historic metal truss bridge that will someday be used for bikes and pedestrians. Park, then take a dirt path to the right of the construction zone. Walk about 100 yards to where a smaller path branches off to the left. It was covered with a downed tree when we were there but just climb over it.

The boardwalk here is fabulous! There are no sides and it’s several feet up over lush vegetation. Beautiful flowers and grasses wave in the wind below. I saw lots of things growing I’d never seen before. The open water is Long Meadow Lake, part of the Minnesota River watershed. The river is actually on the other side of a spit of land you can see from the viewing platform.

This is part of a 70-mile protected wildlife corridor that’s also a major bird migration flyway. We saw at least 25 white egrets from the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk. Another couple told us they see different kinds of birds there throughout the year including eagles, blue herons, swans, and even a pair of sandhill cranes.

Being up on the boardwalk in the vast open river valley is a magical feeling. This is definitely one of my new favorite places. It’s truly a rare place to be part of the natural environment. It’s a short boardwalk though — I wish it was a couple miles long. Go there yourself and maybe we can all convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put that in the construction plans. 

Boardwalks in the metro area:

•  Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bloomington

•  Wood Lake Nature Center, Richfield*

•  Harriet Alexander Nature Center at Central Park, Roseville*

•  Westwood Hills Nature Center, St. Louis Park*

•  Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chanhassen

•  Creekside Park, St. Louis Park (brand new Minnehaha Creek park)

•  Springbrook Nature Center, Fridley

•  Carver Park, Chanhassen

•  Keller Regional Park, Maplewood

•  Minnehaha Creek Headwaters Park, Minnetonka

•  Camelot Lake, Plymouth

•  Methodist Hospital Re-meander, St. Louis Park (Minnehaha Creek boardwalk for patients and general visitors)

•  Elm Creek Park Reserve, Maple Grove 

If you know of other nearby boardwalks, or would like to read previous columns about these starred boardwalks, write to [email protected] 

DINNER BREAK: The Wildlife Refuge is mere blocks from the bustling Mall of America. Enjoy wild rice and corn chowder along with Twin Cities Grill’s famous walleye fish fry.