It’s tough to add 40 acres of natural land in a city as densely developed as St. Louis Park. And if it comes with a creek included, that’s really something out of the ordinary.
A collection of local governments, community groups and businesses pulled off that feat by remaking and restoring a previously forgotten section of Minnehaha Creek, opening up a quiet preserve on the most urbanized section of the 22-mile waterway.
The newly restored segment includes about 1½ miles of boardwalk and paved trail, allowing all ages to enjoy the area. Officials and residents gathered Thursday to celebrate the preserve’s official opening.
“This is a renaissance of a resource that has been hidden from view for decades,” said Sherry White, president of the board of managers of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. “This is a historic day for Minnehaha Creek.”
The restored creek, between Louisiana Avenue and Meadowbrook Avenue, had been dredged and straightened more than 70 years ago to allow for easier construction of nearby residential and industrial buildings.
Over time, the modifications to the natural streambed caused flooding, worsened water pollution and drove out wildlife.
“We thought we could outsmart nature, and it turns out we weren’t as smart as we thought we were,” said St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs.
The restoration work returned natural curves to the creek, adding 1,600 feet to its length. By restoring natural wetlands as a buffer for runoff, the project is expected to improve the water quality in the creek downstream as well as in Lake Hiawatha, both of which are on the state’s list of impaired water bodies.
Eagles, deer and wood ducks have returned to the area since the $2.7 million project was completed, officials said.
The boardwalk and trail are bringing people back into the area, too. Sandra Karkhoff lives in nearby Meadowbrook Manor with her sons Justin, 8, and Jacob, 6. Karkhoff said she regularly strolls on the boardwalk, and lets her boys play in the preserve — something she wouldn’t do before the area was cleaned up.
“We try to get out here almost every day,” she said.
Aaron Peterson of St. Louis Park discovered the restored segment in his kayak and called it “my new favorite area.
“I like the windiness, being able to see all the birds,” he said. “It feels like you’re farther away from the city than you are.”
The project includes interpretive signs and an outdoor classroom space for schools and community groups, as well as two new canoe launches.
The watershed district is also cleaning up an urbanized segment of the creek in Hopkins, near Cottageville Park. That work is expected to be completed this fall, White said.