Saint Catherine University cleared a large section of trees on its campus several years ago and put in a parking lot. While there was some opposition, nothing came of it. As the Joni Mitchell song says, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

South of there, at Cleveland and Montreal avenues, a large number of mature trees once surrounded the former Little League ballfields. They were removed last summer to make way for the Highland Bridge development on the former Ford site. Along Ford Parkway near Mississippi River Boulevard, green banners proclaim the “abundant nature, sustainable future” that will be the cornerstone of Highland Bridge.

A huge cottonwood tree grows at the southeast corner of the Ford site, across Mississippi River Boulevard from Hidden Falls Park. It is close to 18 feet in circumference and provides most of the canopy for the picturesque curve that frames the falls just north of Magoffin Street. The mature grove of eight to 10 pine trees immediately to the west has already been cut down.

Obviously, with a project this large, we are going to lose some trees. But the great number we’ve already seen cut down is a high price to pay. Are the concrete plazas, tunnel and boardwalk going to secure the “abundant nature” promised on the Highland Bridge banner on Ford Parkway?

The front-page story in the September 30, 2020, edition of the Villager was headlined, “Tunnel OK’d for under River Road.” The 90-foot tunnel will lead to a terrace overlooking Hidden Falls. Saint Paul City Council member Chris Tolbert is quoted as saying, “(Hidden Falls) is misnamed now because people have found it.”

We received a letter from Ellen Stewart of the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department on November 11. It informed us that the city required access to the western edge of our property to do survey work in conjunction with the proposed tunnel. We called Ellen and asked for a meeting at the construction site. She declined, but did agree to a Zoom meeting on December 8 with her and team member Ann Gardener. Also present would be John Libby of the architectural firm Toltz, King, Duvall and Anderson who would be working on the tunnel project. We wanted to discuss the effects the project would have on the surrounding area. However, by November 30 another 78 conifer and hardwood trees had already been cut down along River Boulevard.

At this point, we decided to research the site plan. On pages 42 and 45 of the Hidden Falls-Crosby Farm Regional Park Master Plan, we found plans for public transit access at both the north and south entrances to the park. Plazas with seating, wayfinding and art were sketched in above the falls. Additionally, a boardwalk is planned along the west side of that beautiful gorge.

 

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When the time came for our meeting with park staff and architect, they were quite accommodating and addressed some of our concerns. When we brought up the issues of density, traffic flow, tree loss and noise, we were told, “we are trying to drive more people to the park and make it a destination.”

I replied that there are going to be over 6,000 people living on the site. They happily responded, “probably more like 10,000 people.” Finally, I asked about the prospects of the big cottonwood tree and the hardwood trees near it surviving the construction. Ellen said she knew of the big tree and sadly it would have to go.

Obviously, with a project this large, we are going to lose some trees. But the great number we’ve already seen cut down is a high price to pay. Are the concrete plazas, tunnel and boardwalk going to secure the “abundant nature” promised on the Highland Bridge banner on Ford Parkway?

To quote Joni Mitchell again, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

— Jim Ginther

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