Minneapolis officials first started making plans for a trail system that encircles the city almost 140 years ago.
Then, at the turn of the 20th century, they made big progress toward the goal; they completed a series of pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians that covers three-fourths of the city in the shape of a “C,” the Grand Rounds trail.
But with swaths of industrial land and evolving development between the trail’s two endpoints, urban planners in Minneapolis faced an uphill fight over decades to try to persuade state or regional leaders to fund the missing link — until now.
Gov. Tim Walz’s 2020 proposal for construction projects across the state, which he announced last month, includes $12.35 million to start work on the final segment of Minneapolis’ 50-mile Grand Rounds trail, connecting the St. Anthony Parkway to the Mississippi River in southeast Minneapolis. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) commissioners are calling this segment the Bridal Veil trail.
“This project has never gotten to this stage,” said Commissioner Chris Meyer, who is leading the project. “This is something that the Park Board has tried many times — people have kind of given up on it.”
Trying for over a century
The concept of a full loop started with Horace W.S. Cleveland, the landscape architect who founded much of Minneapolis’ early park system, in 1883, according to researchers. The first proposal for building the missing fourth failed in 1910, and then again eight years later. By 2009, Minneapolis parks officials had considered proposals for the link five times.
Currently, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and BNSF Railroad own most of the missing segment’s right-of-way, which includes the Prospect Park, Southeast Como and Mid-City Industrial neighborhoods. Additionally, the University of Minnesota is a major player as operator of the Campus Connector and roads dedicated only to its buses, according to researchers.
Already, parks officials, neighborhood leaders, developers and property owners are discussing possible routes for the new trail connection.
The plans would extend the Grand Rounds trail at East River Parkway on 27th Avenue SE toward University Avenue on the link’s southern end. That path would pass Luxton Park and connect with Fourth Street SE. Then, on the link’s northern stretch, the plans call for using Industrial Boulevard NE across Interstate 35W to the existing Grand Rounds trail.
Middle of segment
But the middle of the segment in Southeast Como and Prospect Park is more complex. One proposed route goes from Fourth to Malcolm Avenue SE, which passes the Surly brewery. Then, it heads north on Malcolm, crossing an intersection reserved for campus shuttles. From there, the trail could extend over over a BNSF railyard in Southeast Como on yet-to-be-built bridges, linking up with Kasota Avenue SE.
Cue the governor’s bonding proposal: The plan, which totals $2.6 billion for a variety of infrastructure projects, would pay for a comprehensive study to determine how, exactly, project leaders in Minneapolis could build the trail over the industrial rail yard, Meyer said.
“It’s going to take an extensive study to identify what the bridge should be and where it should go,” he said. “The bridge is quite expensive — I don’t want to oversell what would be delivered if the Legislature approved this.”
Additionally, the proposed funding for the trail would cover new amenities, such as trees and benches, and allow the Park Board to acquire properties along the route, Meyer said.
But the spending plan is far from a done deal. The DFL governor needs to persuade the majority of members in the Minnesota House and Senate to approve his ideas for infrastructure projects during the 2020 legislative session, which is set to begin next Tuesday.
Planning for how to sell the proposal
Right now, leaders of the Towerside Innovation District in the Prospect Park neighborhood, university representatives and parks staff are in the process of brainstorming how they’re going to sell Walz’s plan to legislators, Meyer said. Specifically, the group is hoping to fundraise $40,000 for a study to show state lawmakers the perimeters of the project.
But even if lawmakers agree to extend the Grand Rounds this year, the lobbying on behalf of MPRB for the state’s help to build the trail will not end. On top of Walz’s request, parks officials would need to lobby for another $15 million in future legislative sessions to build the complicated parts of the trail, Meyer said.
Walz’s bonding proposal also includes $3 million to connect north Minneapolis’ 26th Avenue bike lane to the river, a project that would help bikers access Ole Olson Park, and $11.25 million for new recreation and arts space at North Commons Park.
“It’s fantastic to see he recommended these projects,” said Commissioner Jono Cowgill, whom the board elected president last month. “There’s so much money for parks — it’s very exciting.”