St. Paul officials hope to put the finishing touches this summer on the $1.2 million project to restore the Brickyard Trail, the scenic West Side trail on the Mississippi River bluffs that was closed when two children were killed by a landslide there in 2013.
Parks and Recreation Department staff declined to commit to a reopening date for the Lilydale Regional Park trail but said sometime this year wasn’t out of the question.
“It is a goal of ours to get this area back open for public access,” said St. Paul Parks spokeswoman Clare Cloyd. “We get a lot of people asking. It’s a unique space. We are doing what we can to balance safety concerns with community accessibility.”
Crews armed with an engineering study last year resculpted portions of the bluffs and ravines with heavy machinery. They laid down erosion blankets and planted native grasses, said Alice Messer, St. Paul Parks design and construction manager. They also installed fences and signs to help emergency responders find people quickly.
This summer, crews will plant trees and shrubs. A mix of state and local funds will pay for the work.
Given the popularity of the bluff area, restoring the trail seems like a wise decision, said Whitney Clark, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River.
“You can put up signage and fencing, but that doesn’t stop the intrepid urban explorer or kids going there. Having a trail, if they can make it accessible and safe — that’s a good idea,” Clark said.
Jon Kerr, an activist with the Friends of Lilydale Park, said that he’d like to see the trail reopened but was skeptical that the restoration work will last. He said that stormwater runoff through the park still poses an erosion risk.
The Brickyard Trail is a steep, mile-long gravel path that zigzags down the river bluffs to the site of the defunct Twin Cities Brick Co., which operated from 1894 until the 1970s.
The trail long has been a destination for hikers, with its waterfall and sweeping views of Pickerel Lake. Fossil hunters flocked to the area, stepping off the path in search of prehistoric remains. “People have been crawling up and down that bluff forever,” Clark said.
At some point, St. Paul Parks and Recreation added signage and incorporated the path into its trails system.
“It’s a charming and beautiful place. People who live on the West Side all know it and love it,” Clark said.
That changed on May 22, 2013, when a group of 50 schoolchildren looking for fossils on the waterlogged hillside were caught in a landslide. Rescuers worked in waist-deep mud to dig the kids out, but two died.
City leaders ordered a series of outside engineering studies before deciding in 2015 to re-establish the trail.
When the trail is finally reopened, fossil hunters will be asked to stick to one area for safety reasons.
“The higher risk areas are when you get off the trail,” Messer said.
Even visitors who stay on the path and follow all the rules need to be mindful of potential hazards, officials said. “No area of the park is considered no-risk,” Cloyd said.