Though she works at a college a few steps away, only by accident did Rachel Hansoncome across a stretch of walking trail that one online guide touts as downright “gorgeous.” Now she strolls through Swede Hollow Park on St. Paul’s East Side more days than not.
“There aren’t many places like this,” she said. “It feels secluded,” meandering as it does deep below ground level, as many as 150 steps below the bluffs.
While on a recent walk, Hanson said she hadn’t heard that there’s a threat to run a major new transitway right through the valley. Nor had fellow enthusiast Jing Xin, who at once exclaimed, “No! I don’t like that idea!”
But that plan, which calls for running the proposed Rush Line corridor right through the heart of Swede Hollow, has long worried neighborhood leaders.
“This neighborhood has spent decades trying to get that park to be a real park,” said Deanna Abbott-Foster, executive director of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council. “They volunteered to clean it up and they birthed that park, just out of sheer will to reclaim a beautiful place. It’s almost really in some ways a sacred place to us.
“And we’re gonna put a major rapid-transit line right through it? The people of Dayton’s Bluff will fight like wild dogs to stop that.”
Members of the commission planning the transitway from Forest Lake south to downtown St. Paul’s Union Station are bracing for the pushback.
“The one place we can expect uproarious objections is Swede Hollow,” St. Paul City Council Member Amy Brendmoen told fellow members of a Rush Line planning group in late August. “Brace for a really difficult meeting.”
‘It’s not an either-or’
Swede Hollow Park is set into a narrow, linear valley that was long a dump site. Today, a pair of biking and hiking paths run through it, and the topography is such that the impact of a busway or a train would be huge.
In fact, the online Metro Bike Trails Guide touts the Swede Hollow portion of the 7.5-mile Bruce Vento Regional Trail as a “gorgeous” portion of that major biking and hiking link from the Gateway Trail to downtown St. Paul.
The park route is not the only option being considered for the Rush Line. But it has a major upside, planners say: The public owns the right of way.
“We will co-locate a trail with the line,” said Mike Rogers, project manager. “It’s not an ‘either-or,’ it’s ‘how it all fits in.’ ”
Park advocates say an alternate trail that could be an answer gets flooded and icy, and there are choke points, such as a historic arch bridge where transit could be unsafe for others.
These types of concerns, though, Rogers said, are common in built-up areas, no matter where a line goes.
“Any way you go, someone is impacted,” he said. “If you’re on a street, what happens to parking? We need detailed information about all alternatives: Who is so badly affected that it has to go someplace else?”
The Rush Line would offer frequent all-day service linking suburban downtowns such as Forest Lake and White Bear Lake, plus major shopping areas like Maplewood Mall.
The fact that the line could affect a diverse, modest-income neighborhood summons old wounds from the days when freeways plowed through black enclaves such as St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood while skirting upscale areas, Abbott-Foster said. “It’s raping our neighborhood to get other people to other places,” she said.
As perplexing as it may sound to consider the park routing, said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, local planners cannot fail to at least examine it as they work with federal overseers whose money will be sought to complete the line.
The Rush Line is not expected to be built until the early 2020s, but route alignments could be settled on within the next year or so.
One irony, said community activist Brad Griffith: A bordering neighborhood is known as “Railroad Island,” because it was located between railroad tracks.
Karin DuPaul, president of Friends of Swede Hollow, gazed up the other day as she led a tour of the park and pointed to the old Hamm’s Brewery, now occupied in part by another brewery. She likened the upcoming battle over the Rush Line to the one that occurred over that building.
“There were people who wanted to level that thing,” she said. “But we got the Hamm family involved, and it’s still here.”