The city of Saint Paul, as the owner and one of the partners of the proposed Mississippi River Learning Center in Crosby Farm Regional Park, hosted a public meeting on August 11 to unveil an initial schematic design for the 25-acre site. The site was identified by the city’s 2012 Great River Passage (GRP) plan as an important element in an effort to envision river parkland as more natural, more urban and more connected.

A drawing of how the River Learning Center might transform 25 acres of the area above and below the bluff near the existing Watergate Marina in Crosby Farm Park.

As an active participant in the GRP study, I was happy to be able to check in on the progress of this project to further those goals. There is a lot to like in the schematic design. New traffic controls and crosswalks are proposed on Shepard Road as well as new signage and improved access for all modes of transit. Sympathetic planning to achieve the GRP goals is evident.

Other major partners in the learning center project are the Great River Passage Conservancy, the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection and Your Boat Club. Consultation with the Dakota Indians and other citizens was sought.

One major request was that the project respect the cultural landscape and go light on the land. The Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection and Great River Passage Conservancy have all wisely opted not to be in the flood plain but to be housed within a building at the top of the bluff.

Here are my suggestions to improve the proposed schematic design:

  • Move the River Learning Center classroom into the meeting room at the top of the bluff and out of flood danger.
  • In keeping with the more natural theme of the GRP, all public facilities (i.e., restrooms, rentals, classrooms) that are built in the valley should be open air, flood-proof or portable, and accessible to all.
  • Food service in the valley through trucks and carts can be creatively flexible for all occasions.
  • The only enclosed building in the flood plain should be Your Boat Club as the operator of the marina and its support facilities.
  • There is entirely too much relocation of soil and changes to the contours on the river’s edge. This is dangerous to the stability of the water’s edge and opens up the area to new erosion.
  • The handicapped-accessible tree canopy walkway down the bluff has to be dropped. It will be a headache for maintenance and, more important, will require initial and constant disturbance of the bluff, leading to erosion problems.

— Kent Petterson

Kent Petterson is the owner of Terrace Horticultural Books on Saint Paul’s West End.


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