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Scaled-back plan for park doesn't skimp on amenities

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 16, 2012 - 4:58 PM

The vision for Heritage Village Park has always remained strong: a green space near the Mississippi River with trails, community gathering spaces and a sense of history.

It's the devilish details that have created some obstacles for Inver Grove Heights leaders. A denied railroad crossing at the park's proposed main entrance scuttled the first master plan in 2004. A neighboring business that decided not to sell its land to the city sunk the second plan a year ago.

Now the city thinks it's come up with a winner -- a plan that's a bit more modest in its scope, but with many of the same amenities and trail access to the nearby Rock Island Swing Bridge regional trail overlook

The Inver Grove Heights City Council approved its third version of Heritage Village Park master plan last week.

The new plan scales back the size of the park from upper estimates of 80 acres to about 55 acres. It moves the park's main entrance from 66th Street to Doffing Avenue.

Under the new vision, the park will connect to the swing bridge pier via a trail versus an earlier, more ambitious plan in which the city acquired an additional city block of private property so Heritage Park would border the 22-acre swing bridge parcel. The park's southern border will be 65th Street. The swing bridge is located where 66th Street meets the Mississippi River.

The park's other amenities remain nearly the same. They include an outdoor performance space, picnic shelters, playground and summertime splash pad, trails that connect to the regional system, a main park building and more than 100 parking spots. Leaders hope to create a sense of history with a proposed memorial loop trail with interpretative displays and sites for a historic schoolhouse and city hall building.

Another cornerstone of the park is the Mississippi River Regional Trail, which will wind through the future park, offering accessing to the river and scenic overlooks.

"All three of them have a number of similarities and, generally speaking, work with the same property," said Inver Grove Heights Parks and Recreation Director Eric Carlson. "It gives us some guidance and ideas of what we would like to see in the park."

It will take 10 to 15 years and an estimated $8 to $10 million of city investment to build out Heritage Village. The city will need to acquire an additional six acres from four private landowners under this third master plan. City officials said they've acquired all property for the park voluntarily and will continue that policy.

The city has already completed one of the most expensive components of the project: the $2.4 million restoration of the historic swing bridge. The old double-decker train and auto bridge that spanned the Mississippi was renovated into a pedestrian pier that extends 670 feet into the river. The swing bridge pier opened in June 2011 with a gravel parking lot and portable bathrooms.

The city partnered with Dakota County and state agencies for the renovation. Thanks to grants and state funding, the city only paid about $400,000 of that tab.

The city and county partnered to make $800,000 in street and infrastructure improvements this year, and the county is set to build bathrooms and a paved parking lot near the swing bridge next year.

"It is amazing what we have accomplished already and how little it's cost the city," said Council Member Dennis Madden, who admits he had his doubts when the project was proposed years ago. "We have come a lot farther than I thought we would come. It's amazing how everyone has worked together."

Mayor George Tourville said he bikes to the bridge often and he brings visiting family and friends to marvel at the view.

"It's unbelievable. I don't know of another one along the whole Mississippi," Tourville said.

For many in Inver Grove Heights, walking on the old bridge -- once a lifeline to the city -- is a nostalgic stroll. Many remember driving on the bridge. Tourville said he remembers monkeying around on the bridge when he was a boy.

"We used to go down and play on it and probably did some things I won't want my own kids to do and my mom and dad told me not to do. Thank the guardian angel looking over us. We didn't get hurt or cause any damage. It was fun."

It cost as much money to renovate it as it would have to tear it down, Tourville said. With strategic partnerships, including pursuing grants and other funding, the city has created a destination.

"To me, that is a good resource and a good use of funds. It will now outlast all of us."

Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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