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Minneapolis upgrades will make ‘forgotten’ Brownie Lake more accessible

Brownie Lake

As a boy, Bob Fine remembers paddling his boat into what looked to him like a giant sewer tunnel at the north end of Cedar Lake and coming out on the other side into tiny Brownie Lake. That was a long time ago.

A lot has changed in Minneapolis since then.

Bob Fine is now Commissioner Fine, a member of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, but the Brownie Lake of his boyhood is basically unchanged.

He calls Brownie Lake the forgotten lake in the City of Lakes.

That is about to change.

There are plans for walking and biking paths — and a bridge that would cross the channel that links Brownie Lake to Cedar Lake and allow people to practice the Minneapolis exercise known as “walking around a lake.”

Brownie Lake sits between Interstate 394 and Cedar Lake. The lake was part of a 100-acre purchase by Theodore Wirth in 1908 that was acquired to expand Glenwood Park, which later was re-named for Wirth.

The lake apparently was named for the daughter of William McNair, who owned much of the land around the lake. Wirth attempted to change the name from Brownie to Hillside Harbor, but there is no record that the Park Board ever went along with the name change.

While change is on the way at Brownie Lake, don’t expect concession stands and band shells.

“The goal was to preserve the natural intrigue of the lake,” said Marty Broan, who chairs the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for the project and calls Brownie “the wildest lake” in Minneapolis.

Plans call for soft surface trails, perhaps wood chips, expanded canoe and kayak racks and a fishing pier on the west side of the lake.

“It has not been a popular fishing lake,” said Broan, who thinks the lack of popularity has more to do with access to the lake than the possibility of catching a fish.

Brownie Lake, which is just less than 10 acres, sits on a plot of land that is just less than 28 acres. At one time, the lake and park-owned land were both larger.

The lake was reduced by about one-third in 1867, when the railroad tracks were built between Brownie and Cedar.


MinnPost photo by Karen BorosDesign of a bridge that would cross the channel that links Brownie Lake to Cedar Lake

Brownie got smaller again in 1917, when the Park Board opened the channel linking the two lakes.  At that time, the lake level at Brownie dropped by 10 feet, which perhaps accounts for the steep slope abutting the east side of the lake.

The former park land west of Brownie is the largest park area ever sold by the Minneapolis Park Board. In 1952, the Park Board sold 32 acres of land to the Prudential Insurance Company for $200,000. Target Corp. now owns the building the company occupied.

“Brownie Lake is pretty rough right now,” said Fine, adding, “I believe this cleans it up,” referring to the plans for upgrades.

The proposal calls for new hard-surface bike paths to replace those that run at street level along Cedar Lake Parkway and are part of the Grand Rounds Regional Trail system, which serves 370,000 visitors a year. 

Broan says those trails, built in 1976, are currently dangerous because of the poor quality of the asphalt. He says if money becomes a problem for the Brownie Lake Project, the bike lanes will be the No. 1 priority.

There are also plans for mountain-bike trails in the area west of the lake building on a system of what Broan calls rogue trails cut by cyclists who rode in the area without permission.

Become a sustaining member today

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee worked with the Minneapolis Off-Road Cycling Advocates to create a system of what Broan says will be “premier mountain-bike trails” adjacent to the lake.

The Minneapolis Department of Public Works maintains a pumping station on the east side of the lake that will be replaced by the City of Minneapolis. The current station, built in 1931, serves Target Corp. and 130 homes to the east of the lake. The design for the new pumping station remains undecided.

Funding for the park improvements will come from a $600,000 grant from the Park and Trails Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.  That will be supplemented by $550,000 from the Federal Transportation Enhancement Fund.

“This might turn the lake into something special,” said Fine of the plans to keep Brownie Lake wild but more accessible. “One more lake for the citizens to enjoy.”

Brownie Lake Area Plan

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will consider the plan at its Wednesday meeting. The session runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at 2117 West River Road.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by John Eidel on 03/15/2012 - 11:04 am.

    Too bad

    As a frequent canoist (canoer?) on the chain of lakes, I wish that they would keep Brownie Lake relatively difficult to access. There is something cool about canoeing through that access pipe; it makes it seem as if Brownie Lake is an unknown, secret space that at that moment is mine alone. It is unique among the Minneapolis Lakes in that is a remote space, uncrowded and peaceful. I think that there are ample opportunities to find bike and walking paths around the Minneapolis lakes, and keeping Brownie Lake for the canoes and kayaks is the way to go.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 03/15/2012 - 06:37 pm.

      I have to agree..

      …20 years ago I moved from a rural area into the city to go to school. I was in my early thirties and totally broke. Canoing and biking were my only forms of entertainment. I saw that lake biking one day so that next I brought my canoe out to Lake of the Isles and found the “tunnel” into the lake. Early in the morning you’d never have know you were in the city. Its a great place as it is.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 03/15/2012 - 12:12 pm.

    bike trails

    There are a couple places near there where the bike trails are so bad it feels safer to ride in the street. There is a good stretch of bike trail as wide as a narrow sidewalk that dips down into a low area and places where the surface is in bad shape. Then they have signs up to keep you off the sidewalk on the other side of the street which is in much better shape. It would be fun to get more familiar with that little lake which scores of bikers pass each day in the summer.

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