The scenic walkway across the Mississippi linking Brooklyn Park to Coon Rapids reopened to cheers and applause last week after a two-year closure.
Now, the grand reopening has park users and planners mapping out the future of the 160-acre green space on the Brooklyn Park side.
As the final construction barrier was lifted at 5 p.m. July 1, a stream of bicyclists, young parents with strollers and walkers, many with their dogs, crossed the river. The stroll offers panoramic views of the river, with waters rushing through the dam below sending up a gentle mist.
The walkway atop the historic Coon Rapids Dam closed in April 2013 so crews could complete a $16 million makeover to shore up the dam’s structure and, ideally, keep invasive carp out of the upper reaches of the river.
The quarter-mile walkway is one of the main attractions of the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, which is owned and operated by the Three Rivers Park District on the Brooklyn Park side and by Anoka County on the Coon Rapids side.
Approximately 386,000 people visited the park in 2012. Those numbers have dipped by nearly 10 percent during construction.
“It has been dearly missed over the last two years,” said Kelly Grissman, Three Rivers director of planning. ”It’s awesome. You get to walk over the Mighty Mississippi and see water whooshing over the dam. It’s hard to fathom you are anywhere near the metro area. It’s just greenery and parkland.”
The walkway features new rails and lighting. Construction on the dam underneath is 95 percent done and included removing inflatable rubber bladder gates and replacing them with steel crest gates.
Drafting new plans
Coinciding with the reopening, park planners are drawing up a new master plan for the park. They are partnering with the city of Brooklyn Park, which owns an additional 97 acres of parkland adjacent to Three Rivers’ holdings.
The park currently offers hiking, bicycling, fishing, picnicking, snowshoeing and geocaching.
“We are thinking in 10, 20, 30 years, what do we want this park to look like? What natural resources do we want to protect and help restore?” Grissman said.
The park will remain a respite for nature lovers, she said, but it’s time to consider what other amenities would heighten that experience.
“For 30-plus years, it’s been what is currently is. It’s time to take a fresh look at it and make some decisions so we can stay relevant to the community. We know the park is loved by fishermen and women, but that can be improved.”
There is also a request for more creative and nature-based play opportunities for kids. Many say the nature center feels a bit dated. Park users have also weighed in on the trail system.
“This park is more centrally located than our other parks. It has an opportunity to serve a more diverse audience than our other parks,” Grissman said. “You could drop in for a half-hour or spend the whole day.”
In the past park planners drew up a proposal and then brought it to the public for review. This time is different.
“We are going to the public first and saying, ‘What do you want to see?’ ” Grissman said. “The conversation is happening a lot earlier in the process and it’s a five times bigger conversation than we’ve ever done.”