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Hennepin County considers Mississippi River walkway at St. Anthony Falls

Hennepin County considers Mississippi River walkway at St. Anthony Falls Photo: RSP Architects

Updated: January 14, 2020 07:32 PM

Hennepin County is considering a project that would reimagine the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. The proposed development is called The Wishbone.

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Plans for the walkway were unveiled to the public at the County Commission’s Public Works Committee meeting on Tuesday.

“It puts you right on top of the falls, gives you an experience that’s intimate with the river and just a better understanding,” said Commissioner Mike Opat.

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that he’s been working with RSP Architects on the proposal for about two years.

The walkway would connect both sides of the Mississippi River near St. Anthony Falls. It would be about a mile long, with access points at the lock and dam on one side and St. Anthony Main on the other.

The promenade would extend past St. Anthony Falls and then run alongside and wrap around Horseshoe Falls.

“Great cities and great counties have great places,” Opat said. “We can all think about what they are, the Arch in St. Louis, the Washington Monument, or any of the monuments. I think this one, there’s long been an interest in bringing people to the river.”

It’s historically significant to Native American communities, which were the first inhabitants along that portion of the river. Spirit Island, a sacred place, was also there.

“The falls has always been historically and culturally significant place for the Dakota people and it remains historically and culturally significant to this day,” said Franky Jackson, with the Prairie Island Historic Preservation Office. “We’re excited about the opportunity to help share our history and our historical connection to all of Minnesota.”

Michael Schroeder, assistant superintendent with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, suggested a visitor center be part of the proposal.

The project could cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Opat. 

RSP Architects said parts of the existing lock and dam can be repurposed for the project. About 80 percent of the walkway can be supported by infrastructure already there, according to RSP.

“It’s certainly an interesting idea,” said Mark Andrew, the president of the Friends of the Lock and Dam. “Our primary goal is access.”

He said the organization already has a multi-million project underway to re-purpose the site, with plans to include a visitor center recognizing Native American communities.

“There’s probably not room for two of those but that’s an opportunity for collaboration,” he said. “I think the important thing is that we’re willing to have this conversation, we’ll see where it goes.”

Opat said he sees both projects complementing each other. 

There is still a lot of work to be done on the proposal. If the County Commission moves forward with the project, a feasibility study will be done.

Both county leaders and RSP said there will be public comment opportunities, although a timeline hasn’t been set.

They’re also still figuring out who will pay for it, who will own it and who will maintain it.

“This is the starting line and we’ll see where it takes us,” said Opat.

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