Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


Imagine a park right across the river from downtown Minneapolis. Close enough to the lower St. Anthony Falls and a recharged East Falls to feel the spray of the water. A spectacular view of the Stone Arch Bridge and the downtown cityscape. Meadows and trails and picnic areas with easy walking and bike access from the north side of the Stone Arch Bridge. An interpretation area explaining the significance of the area to the Indigenous people and the early settlers. A possible destination park like the one at Minnehaha Falls.

Could all this be had for the citizens of Minneapolis, since the city already owns the property? Well, maybe.

You need a little context. Of my background and of the site of which I speak.

I was raised on a small farm in northwestern Iowa. My folks decided one summer that we should take a vacation to the big city of Minneapolis. I was 14. My brother was 18. Must-see places were the infamous Nicollet Mall and the Foshay Tower. We went to the top of the Foshay and walked the mall. My brother told me to quit looking up at the tall buildings for fear we'd be recognized as tourists.

Forward eight years. I had just completed four years at the University of Iowa. I moved in with a friend in Minneapolis in the Marcy-Holmes area in southeast Minneapolis. Since I was an English Lit major, I really had two options: grad school, or buying the fledgling garden center I had worked at the previous summer. "Garden center" somehow seemed logical. I spent the next year exploring the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, and the nearby Father Hennepin Bluff Park just northwest of the Stone Arch Bridge. I also ventured into lower area of that park, right along the river.

The garden center I purchased turned into a career of 45 years. We concentrated working mostly for public entities. State, city, schools and parks were our typical landscaping projects. My wife and I retired two years ago, and we decided that the perfect area to spend our retirement time would be — guess where? — right where I started. In Marcy-Holmes.

Last fall I was invited by our local neighborhood group to attend a volunteer outing to plant perennials in the lower area of the Father Hennepin Park to "restore" the area. The same area I had explored 48 years ago. I was astounded. The place had become a tangle of invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle. Only one access stair remained, and that was closed because a stair had rotted out. The site is filled with old footings and railings and girders and fencing and graffiti. The bridges and walls and paths on site, probably constructed 50 years ago have deteriorated over the years, and the numerous cheap, tacky repairs are obvious. And numerous. I seriously think the site is dangerous.

This week I attended a neighborhood meeting to discuss the future of the lower area and a plan for invasive plant removal and replanting. Neither our Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board representative nor City Council member were there. Only two of our Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association Board members attended. It seems no one cares too much about the park.

Granted, I might be a little more cognizant of the aesthetics of the area, having attended a year of the landscape program at the University of Minnesota and the master gardener program. But I think everyone should be embarrassed by how this place looks, and the inaccessibility of the entire site.

The leaders who led the meeting, the Marcy-Holmes volunteers and the representative from Friends of the Mississippi group, are proposing a volunteer-led 10-year restoration of the site. Ten years. Nothing is planned for amenity replacement. As a former contractor who has worked on similar projects, I know that this project is way over the heads of a volunteer group.

Besides, why not think big? No one comes to visit the Foshay anymore, and the Nicollet Mall is simply boring. There won't be any Iowans visiting to see those sites, but people would come to a park that was within a touch of the power of the legendary falls.

The St. Anthony business community could definitely benefit from a destination park right next door. It would be great if people came for the park and stayed for the food of local restaurants.

Please visit the site if you can. There's going to be an on-site review in about a week to review proposed restoration. View the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association website (marcy-holmes.org) for more information if you're interested. Or call your Park Board representative or City Council representative. It could be really impressive!

Leo Vander Broek is a retired landscape contractor.