Grand plans for the ‘Missing Link’

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Completing the 50-mile trail that winds through Minneapolis sounds like a good idea, but some residents are up in arms about one of the proposed routes, saying the proposal could mean bulldozing their homes. This is the first of three articles on the Grand Rounds Missing Link.

The Grand Rounds is a picturesque 50-mile roadway that includes walking and biking paths that wind around the city’s parks, lakes and streams. A 3.5-mile stretch between St. Anthony Parkway south and East River Parkway, however, has never been finished. Some community members, government officials and other stakeholders would like to see the “missing link” of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway in Minneapolis completed as landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland envisioned it over a century ago.

A public input meeting is slated for October 18, 6:30–8:30 p.m., at Windom Recreation Center. For more information, check out www.minneapolisparks.org.

In June, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) convened a 22-member citizen advisory committee (CAC) that includes a cross-section of residents and business owners in addition to a technical advisory committee (TAC), made up of government representatives to work on a “master plan” to bridge the gap. Committee members are working with consultants from HNTB Corporation, a firm that is leading the design and engineering for the project.

Earlier attempts to expand the parkway system have been unsuccessful, but proponents say the outlook is better this time around, thanks to broad-based political support. Congressmember James Oberstar, who represents the state’s 8th Congressional District, expressed his enthusiasm for the project via e-mail: “Connecting these seven Minneapolis parks so they can be enjoyed by car, bike or on foot, is like putting jewels on chain…creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Additional biking and walking trails could help reduce pollution and combat traffic congestion. Altogether, “This project is an excellent example of how a scenic byway can improve the quality of life for a community,” he said.

City Councilmember Paul Ostrow (Ward 1), said the City Council and Park Board would work together to secure funding in the upcoming legislative session. Depending on its scale, the effort could be eligible for federal money. Ostrow stressed that filling in the void would provide accessibility for Northeast and Southeast residents, who have long been isolated from the city’s parks, Chain of Lakes and recreational facilities.

“It’s about correcting a historical injustice,” he said, adding that he is not in favor of creating many new parks that will require maintenance. Rather, it comes down to something more basic. “We need every resident to feel connected,” he said.

Closing the gap

The project’s timeline is unclear, with proposals to seek funding in the next legislative session and other projections of a 10 to 30 year timeline. Also unclear is the project’s timeline.

John Erwin, chair of the CAC and a former Park Board Commissioner, said the idea is to link the Southeast and Northeast areas together, to the rest of the city and possibly to the region. Aside from the joys of living near biking and walking paths, he said, property values are highest close to the Grand Rounds. Additionally, popular trails are busy all year-round, an advantage for local businesses. With a new parkway also comes more green space, along with other environmentally friendly provisions. Along with the new route itself, the CAC is seeking input on potential amenities, such as new soccer fields, skate parks or amphitheaters, to make Southeast and Northeast a draw.

Although he and others hope the project sparks economic growth, Erwin said the point is to enhance recreational and transportation opportunities for residents. Criteria for the parkway includes its impact on surrounding neighborhoods, ease of use of existing biking and walking paths, park and open spaces in addition to transportation corridors, among other factors, according to Park Board information.

Exactly where the route will go is still up in the air. The CAC and HNTB are hosting public information sessions to get feedback on options for the route. The CAC is expected to pinpoint the most ideal route(s) sometime this spring. The Park Board will ultimately determine the direction for the “missing link.”


Tom Johnson, HNTB project manager, said one stipulation is that the course must have clearance of at least 80 feet (in width), allowing for plenty of room for landscaping or parking bays, or other attributes. According to Park Board information, possible routes are:

1) Marshall Avenue Northeast and Southeast Main Street to the University of Minnesota;
2) Stinson Avenue and 15th and Pleasant Avenues Southeast;
3) Stinson Avenue, 18th Avenue Southeast and Oak Street; and
4) down Industrial Boulevard to industrial areas on the eastern edge of the Como

Community input

Some Como residents were vocal at a September public input meeting about their opposition to a route that would bulldoze a large number of homes in the neighborhood. Some officials have said they’re steering away from that route. “We could design a parkway that would take very little or no houses. We could do that if people are willing to reduce the expectation of the parkway itself,” said Johnson.

Connie Sullivan, who lives in Como and serves on the CAC, said she’s pro-Grand Rounds, but is against any plan that would demolish homes in the neighborhood. Part of the reason that some Como residents were so outspoken at the meeting, she said, was because many community members feel they’ve been cut out of the process. In recent years, “Como has been besieged by decisions made by the city without consulting people here. It really indicates that the neighborhood is dispensable,” she said.

Instead of a route that would tear the neighborhood apart, she wants a route that would meander through the industrial zone, to the east, and would have ties to the wetlands.

Craig Pederson, pastor of Northeast Community Lutheran Church, spoke for his Northeast neighbors. “Every other part of the city has an extensive network of parkways and bikeways. The prevailing sense among Northeast residents is that it’s time for us to do that too,” he said. “We live in the City of Lakes, but Northeast doesn’t have a lake…A lot of Northeast residents are very excited to be talking seriously about completing the project.”

Anna Pratt is a freelance journalist living and working in Minneapolis. She can be reached at annaprattjournalist@gmail.com.