The River to River Greenway, an 8-mile recreational corridor running through northern Dakota County, is expected to open in September after this summer’s completion of a critical 1.4-mile gap in West St. Paul.
The segment nearing completion, budgeted at $2.29 million, goes from Hwy. 110 to Garlough Elementary School, passing by Henry Sibley High School and crossing Dodge Nature Center along the way.
It includes a pedestrian underpass at Charlton Street that will offer Garlough students a safe route as they make trips to the nearby nature center.
Charlton Street, closed during construction, was scheduled to reopen on Saturday, although the underpass will not open until September. At 18 feet wide, the underpass is roomier than usual to accommodate school groups and other pedestrians.
Josh Kinney, a Dakota County senior project manager overseeing construction of the segment, praised contractor S.M. Hentges & Sons for the quick work on the underpass.
“It was amazing,” Kinney said. “They had it completed, all 14 concrete pieces, 20,000 pounds each, within four days and were already building the road over it on the fourth day.”
The greenway follows the route of what was formerly known as the North Urban Regional Trail, bringing the trail itself up to regional standards and adding amenities such as benches, trailheads, bike racks and cultural and environmental interpretive stations to support recreational use and nonmotorized transportation.
The greenway connects Mendota Heights, West St. Paul and South St. Paul and links to five other regional greenways or trails. It runs from the Big Rivers Regional Trail in Lilydale to the Kaposia Landing on the Mississippi in South St. Paul.
The West St. Paul greenway segment now under construction includes an outdoor classroom with a 50-seat amphitheater at Callahan Place and Marie Avenue W. on the high school property, said Chris Hartzell, a senior planner with Dakota County.
The project has included planting 540 trees, 1,300 shrubs and three acres of native grasses. It also has restored degraded natural area at Dodge Nature Center near the new underpass.
“To be able to go under Charlton, come out from that tunnel, have that upgraded wetlands area then go right onto the walking trails at Dodge is an exciting opportunity,” said Jason Sanders, the nature center’s executive director.
The greenway also offers a great opportunity to bring new people to the nature center, Sanders said.
“We would love for people to park their bikes and enjoy the great walking trails and the great opportunities for environmental education at Dodge,” he said.
The River to River Greenway will serve as a template that the county will try to replicate in other projects, particularly in the amenities it offers, said John Mertens, a Dakota County senior planner.
“We’re looking at our regional trail system as a greenway system that has multiple public values,” Mertens said. “So when we develop a project, we’re looking at doing habitat restoration, water quality enhancement, nonmotorized transportation and really developing a linear recreational corridor. It’s a more comprehensive design of what formerly were pretty much just trails.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.