From broken bottles to butterflies and birds

The Bluff Street Park site is between the former railroad bridge and I-35W.

Photo by Metropolitan Design Center, U of M

Adopted bluff park may become a home for native wildlife

An abandoned and neglected parcel of Mississippi River bluff near the West Bank may soon be nurtured back to life.

The Bluff Street Task Force is applying with the Adopt-a-Park program at the recommendation of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) staff. If accepted, this program would allow them to fulfill their dream of cleaning up and restoring Bluff Street Park. The Adopt-a-Park plan was recommended by MPRB staff to Karen Swenson of Groundworks, an organization that has selected the Bluff Street Park as one of its park cleanup projects.

The application will outline the site improvements the task force proposes to the West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC). If approved by the WBCC in April, the application will be turned in to MPRB to be considered for approval. Before approval, the Park Board would “meet with us to understand what we have in mind and to negotiate concerns, thus opening up the possibility of ongoing communications and cooperation between Parks and the neighborhood and other partners about Bluff Street,” said Swenson.

MPRB Superintendent Jon Gurban reviews and signs Adopt-a-Park applications, within a 30 day turn-around. He said the Adopt-a-Park program allows individuals or groups to keep the park clean, possibly do plantings and perform regular maintenance. He said it’s a beautification-oriented rather than development-oriented program. A development oriented plan would go on to a planning department. He said it’s not a problem as long as structures are not permanent or obtrusive, “such as a baseball field, or a Ferris wheel.” He said the 20-30 adopt-a-parks currently existing are going great. “Communities willing to roll up their sleeves are much better than someone handing you a $20 and saying, ‘go do this.’”

Bluff Street Task Force presented its plan during the open time portion of an MPRB meeting last fall. Gurban said they indicated their interest in keeping the space a park and expressed concerns about a condo developer they’d heard wanted to buy the site from the park board.

“The developer they heard of made no formal proposal,” Gurban said. “We indicated to [the developer] there were concerns of the neighborhood and there are potential contamination concerns.” They never heard back from the developer.

Gurban added, “There is no active proposal that I’m aware of in front of the board. People come in weekly with ideas, from interesting to strange, about what to do with parks. For example, someone recently proposed a baseball field on Minnehaha Creek! That won’t work. It’s a passive recreational park space.”

Rosemary Knutson, a Bluff Street Task Force member, has worked toward this since 2000. She said, “The wonderful thing is we’re preserving an open space for the community, and a Mississippi River Bluff, for the world. It’s an international treasure. This is the most gratifying project that I’ve worked on.” Knutson called the parkland “bedrock bluff prairie,” of which “there are only 320 acres left in Minnesota.”

Park board Commissioner Scott Vreeland said he supports the Bluff Street Task Force’s plans. “Everything I’ve seen looks good so far,” he said. He is talking with the city’s Public Works department and MPRB staff about cleaning up large items in the park such as concrete and pipes from the former Minnegasco site. The task force invites all to join this year’s Earth Day Watershed Cleanup at Bluff Street Park April 22, 9:30 a.m.–noon, Bluff Street and First Avenue S. Gloves and trash bags will be provided, with same-day registration. Call the Earth Day 24-hour hotline at 612-313-7722, or visit www.minneapolisparks.org.

Groundworks was founded in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s to clean up brownfields, at the recommendation of Margaret Thatcher. The organization spread to New England and is now in 16 cities, said Swenson. Groundworks will bring to the park project National Civilian Community volunteers through a program of Americorp. There would be at least five to 10 members, 18–24 years old, helping with cleanup on Earth Day, April 21, and beyond.

Other organizations offering their assistance are the National Park Service, Friends of the Mississippi River Gorge Stewards, and Greening the Great River. Also, Ann Forsyth, of the University of Minnesota’s Metropolitan Design Center, developed a design for the site that would preserve habitat for migratory birds, animals and insects, and restore native plant species with little disturbance to the land. z?

last revised: August 9, 2006