Changes to parking lots, trails expected to reduce flood cleanup costs

By Jane McClure

Reconstructed trails and a new, smaller parking lot on the southern end of Hidden Falls Park are planned this summer to deal with longstanding Mississippi River flooding, flood-related damage and chronic silt deposits. Bids will be sought in June, with construction to follow. The improvements should be completed by fall.

This is the first project to be implemented in a previously completed master plan for Hidden Falls and Crosby Farm parks. The plan went through a public review process before it was approved last year by the St. Paul City Council and Metropolitan Council. The latter is involved because the two parks are considered to be one large regional park for planning and funding purposes.

One of the winding, wooded trails at Crosby Farm Park shown in the 2019 master plan.

“This park area is a real jewel for the city of St. Paul,” Gardner said. However, much of the parkland is in a floodway and high water typically leaves behind silt as deep as 4 feet in some places.

The master plan outlines 46 potential projects for the two parks. The projects range from removing fallen trees at Hidden Falls to constructing an environmental education center at Crosby. Much of the plan focuses on improving parking lots and creating more rustic trails. One benefit of natural trails is that they can be groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Anne Gardner is overseeing this summer’s parking lot and trails project for the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation. She reviewed plans in May with the Community Development Committee of the Highland District Council (HDC) and the St. Paul Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee. The city is seeking final comments as design work wraps up this month.

The plan has been met with a generally positive response. Both committees asked Parks and Recreation to consider the high demand for more bicycle racks at Hidden Falls and Crosby. The HDC committee asked about beefing up security due to a spate of vehicle break-ins at the parks. Some committee members also raised concerns over plans to reduce parking.

“This park area is a real jewel for the city of St. Paul,” Gardner said. However, much of the parkland is in a floodway and high water typically leaves behind silt as deep as 4 feet in some places. She said making changes to parking lots and paved trails may reduce those ongoing cleanup costs.

Instead of cleaning up and repairing parking lots and trails every year, Gardner said it makes more sense to reduce the amount of pavement and to move lots and trails farther from the river. The city plans to use stockpiled silt as a base for the projects.

Hidden Falls has two access points along Mississippi River Boulevard—one near the south end of the former Ford Motor Company plant and the other near the Highway 5 bridge. Crosby has access points near Gannon Road and at Elway Street. All four entrances are in line for parking and traffic safety improvements in the master plan.

The access point and parking lot near Highway 5 are scheduled for improvements this summer, Gardner said. The southern Hidden Falls entrance road will be shortened and about 80 parking spots will be reduced to 20.

“The existing road is often under water when it floods,” Gardner said. After the pavement is removed, the road can be converted for a trail.

New paved trails will be placed closer to the bluff’s base, with natural trails providing access near the Mississippi River. The new parking lot will be along the river below the overlook at Gannon and Shepard roads, also farther from the river. The lot will have a trail head with signage.

The city will use $2 million in federal Emergency Management Agency funds for the project.

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