It was the old (and fortunately reconsidered) model of urban planning: natural features like water and wetlands were frequently modified or even eliminated for purposes of building and development. Many of the twists and turns of Minnehaha Creek as it flowed through St. Louis Park and other communities were dug out, straightened and redirected. Wetlands were filled in. The results, over time, were problems like flooding, erosion, water pollution and reduced wildlife habitat all along the creek. With the help of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD), however, the creek is being restored to its former state. To this end, several projects in St. Louis Park are ongoing.
Telly Mamayek is the MCWD communication and education director. “The MCWD,” she explains, “is a special-purpose unit of local government that manages and protects the natural resources within its boundaries.” MCWD covers Minnehaha Creek’s entire watershed—land and water that drains into the creek—including those features in and downstream from St. Louis Park, like Meadowbrook golf course and Lake Hiawatha. “The creek had basically been ‘ditched,’ that is, literally turned into a glorified ditch, and moved out of the way in the original development of Meadowbrook golf course,” says Mamayek. “A straight stream runs fast, which increases erosion. Water collected on land surfaces simply flows right into the creek, including all the pollutants it picks up on the way.” Heavy rains and flooding in June 2014 did so much damage to Meadowbrook golf course it had to close. “The MCWD and Parks and Rec had talked previously,” says Mamayek, “but when the flooding occurred, the opportunity arose to revitalize the course and restore Minnehaha Creek.”
Golf course reconstruction is expected to begin this summer, while restoration of the creek and its associated wetlands will likely occur in late 2016 and early 2017. “It will take the summer of 2017 to bring the golf course back” to functional status, says Mamayek, with re-opening planned for summer 2018. When the creek’s original twists and turns and its wetlands are restored, says Mamayek, it will slow down and will have greater reserve capacity for increased water flow. Flooding and pollution will decrease. All these factors favor a more hospitable environment for wildlife and for human recreation as well.
A related project is underway northwest of the golf course, near the Japs-Olson Printing Co. “We’re building a trailhead and a trail connection that will link up to the boardwalk in the preserve,’ says MCWD planner and project manager Mike Hayman, referring to the stretch of the creek between Meadowbrook Road and Louisiana Avenue where boardwalks were built last summer. “The idea is to connect the previous improvements to Excelsior Boulevard.” Highlights will include a pedestrian trail, additional parking and conversion of previously industrial property to its original natural landscape.
“A big part of this project is stormwater management,” says Hayman. A reduction in water run-off into the creek is essential to improving water quality. “Basically we want to improve our ability to capture rainwater where it falls,” says Mamayek, instead of allowing it to pour into the creek unfiltered. Homeowners can help, she says, by planting rain gardens, using native plantings near waterfront, water-pervious pavers and rain barrels. “MCWD’s goals include educating the public and providing grant funding to help individuals make some of these changes,” she adds.
Another opportunity for citizens to help improve water quality of the creek is the 10-year anniversary of the Minnehaha Creek cleanup on July 24. Volunteers can help remove trash on land along the creek in St. Louis Park. Breakfast is provided, as are trash bags, gloves, souvenir T-shirts and water bottles. The event is capped off with a barbecue lunch at Lake Hiawatha in Minneapolis, where prizes are awarded for a variety of trash-related categories, including most unusual find, best story and weight of trash collected.
Minnehaha Creek Clean-up
For more info, and to sign up, visit the website here.