Slowly, but city officials hope surely, a plan to better connect the residents of St. Paul to the mighty river that flows through it just keeps rolling along.

On Tuesday, city officials will announce a new kayak-sharing program, possible new trails and connections to Pig's Eye Regional Park and a spiffy new riverboat landing — all part of what's called the Great River Passage. The plan, available online at, also includes a feasibility study for a new Mississippi River environmental learning center in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS).

"We want to create a larger vision for what is truly an extraordinary landscape," said Mary deLaittre, Great River Passage manager. "But we're really just in start-up mode."

Some elements are further along than others. The kayak-sharing program — think Nice Ride, but with kayaks — is already approved, said John Anfinson, superintendent of the NPS's Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. "We're just waiting on the money," he said.

But a Mississippi River Environmental Learning Center, which would also function as a NPS headquarters, needs more study. The NPS has leased space in the Kellogg Square Apartments in downtown St. Paul for nearly 20 years and wants its own facility to illustrate the river corridor's importance as a national park.

"I think it's a vision for the river that we really need," Anfinson said. "Cities all along the river need to ask: how do we develop in a way that reflects that this is one of the world's greatest rivers?"

Plan initiatives include coming up with a new use for the St. Paul Riverboat (the former Minnesota Centennial Showboat), continuing to explore the River Balcony idea that would link buildings along the downtown riverfront with a boardwalk, developing a new riverboat landing, possibly near Harriet Island, and creating a new trail system at Pig's Eye Regional Park. A total of 321 projects have been identified in the 300-page Great River Passage Master Plan that could take decades and millions of dollars to become reality.

Much of the work, said Angie Tillges, Great River Passage fellow, "is building on what's already there."

Programs like Explore Outdoor St. Paul and Goats and Grounds, where goats will be used to clear away invasive plants, are set to begin this summer, as are movie screenings.

Much of what's in the Great River Passage plan has been there for years, deLaittre said. Part of the plan is to give people a reason to come to the river.

"It's not just to connect to the river," she said. "But to also make the river part of the collective consciousness of St. Paul."

James Walsh • 651-925-5041