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Working to protect the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities area
Photo: Whitney Clark/FMR
Once the site of a small floodplain village, St. Paul’s Lilydale Park is taking a significant step toward clean-up and rebirth as a premier regional natural space. Local leaders hope to finish the work started decades ago: transforming Lilydale Park from a flood-prone village to a natural oasis, right in the shadow of downtown St. Paul.
On July 15th, the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission approved a Master Plan concept for the park. When it is finally approved by the St. Paul City Council later this year, the Master Plan will open the door to an anticipated $9.2 million slate of investment in restoration and improvements to the park.
The improvements cap four decades of transition for the area, tracing back to floods in the 1960s that made the former heart of Lilydale uninhabitable. After waiting many years for City attention, this May St. Paul released a Natural Resources Management Plan to guide the park back to a more natural state.
Eyes were also opened to the potential of the park by the recent opening of the spectacular Brickyard Trail, which winds from Pickerel Lake up the bluff to the Vento’s View blufftop overlook. Friends of Lilydale Park, led by neighbors Jon Kerr and Grit Youngquist, led the creation of the interpretive trail. The group has also been an active leader in stewardship, recreation and education activities in the park.
After two years of stakeholder feedback and design, City Parks Landscape Architect Alice Messer presented a full vision for the park to a Design Advisory Task Force on July 1st. The Master Plan recommended by both the Design Advisory Task Force and Parks Commission includes:
Photo: Whitney Clark/FMR
Youngquist explained that the idea of a dog park bubbled up late in the process, and she wanted to make sure that the community had an honest discussion about whether a dog park would be an appropriate use in that location. “I was actually pretty surprised to have such an enthusiastic response to the proposal,” she said at a recent meeting.
City staff presented a variety of survey data that showed a dog park in varied light among the general public. Those concerned with the dog park concept worried that it could damage the natural resources in the area would draw too many people to the park, and was needlessly close to the Mississippi River. On the other hand, many felt a dog park would help address a nagging concern over safety and isolation in that part of the park by bringing additional activity to the area.
FMR, along with others, felt a dog park’s benefits would likely outweigh any drawbacks, and might even expand the base of volunteer stewards to care for the park. While acknowledging more refinement of the concept was needed, seven of the eleven Task Force members present supported the dog park concept advancing as part of a final plan.
A variety of federal, state, regional and local funding will be sought to move those improvements forward in coming years. And some funding is at the ready: the newly-formed St. Paul Parks Conservancy has committed to the park as its first priority for investment.
“One of the beauties of the park is that it is a crossroads between the natural and historic environment,” Kerr said last year. “We think it’s possible and appropriate to arrive at a sustainable balance between those assets.”
The master plan goes to the St. Paul City Council for final adoption later this year. St. Paul Parks expects to form a new Task Force to work through some of the more detailed design issues as funding and work progresses.Links: