hidden fall flooding
Flooding at Hidden Falls Regional Park has been a problem for years. Photo by Anne Brandrud

The Saint Paul City Council approved an application for a $942,020 federal grant on May 18 to raise and reconfigure the parking lot on the south end of Hidden Falls Regional Park in order to address longstanding flooding problems.

City officials are seeking the grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The city’s Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee recommended approval of the request earlier in May.

The grant could result in long-awaited action on a master plan for both Hidden Falls and Crosby Farm parks. The plan went through years of review and public comment before it won City Council approval in 2019.

“We’ve for many years experienced flooding at Hidden Falls,” said Paul Sawyer, management assistant for the Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation. The park was most recently closed this month due to flooding and will require cleanup in the weeks ahead.

In 2019, the two parks experienced a particularly devastating flood. Several feet of sediment remain in Hidden Falls’ south parking lot, on trails and in a picnic area. The city has discussed the problem with FEMA officials and is confident that the grant will be awarded.

The south entrance to Hidden Falls includes a long driveway with 77 parking spaces and a circular turnaround at the end. The area also has a picnic grounds. The master plan notes that the area is more natural and less used than the park’s north area, which has shelter and picnic area. The south area is often closed due to flooding.

Sawyer said that without adding park amenities, “there’s no real reason to visit the (south) area.” A long-term goal is to seek additional funding to develop trails and other attractions in that area.

 

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CIB Committee member Barett Steenrod questioned the large amount of funding requested for the parking lot. He asked for the vote to be laid over for more information. However, Sawyer said there is a time limit to getting the funding and putting the project out for bid. The goal is to get the work done during this construction season.

Other committee members said the money is needed to alleviate the time and costs spent dealing with park floods, and to see some aspects of the park master plan implemented. “I’m excited to see this move forward,” said committee member Ray Hess.

The improved lot and other amenities would also be a boon for future Highland Bridge residents as the former Ford Motor company site is developed, said committee member Rudy Burgos.

Raising and relocating the parking lot  and reducing its size is just one master plan recommendation for the south end of Hidden Falls Park. Other recommendations include increasing natural plant areas and the tree canopy, improving trails, and adding a pump track and bicycle challenge course.

According to the master plan, pump tracks consist of a circuit of small hills and banked turns. The tracks are designed to  help children develop bike riding skills and experience challenging terrain in a relatively small area. The plan recommends building the track out of material that will withstand flooding.

Sawyer said that without adding park amenities, “there’s no real reason to visit the (south) area.” A long-term goal is to seek additional funding to develop trails and other attractions in that area.

Attracting more people to the area is also seen as a way to increase park security. Hidden Falls’ south entrance is at Mississippi River Boulevard and South Prior Avenue, just west of the Highway 5 bridge. A steep slope, vegetation and a curving roadway add to security issues. One longstanding issue in the south lot is vehicle break-ins.

— Jane McClure

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