Many projects underway at Como Regional Park


Como Regional Park never sleeps. The 347-acre park has been an ever-evolving work in progress since the first 259.95 acres of farmland were purchased in 1873.

In June, the park opened its new Polar Bear Odyssey exhibit. Construction on the zoo’s next new habitat, the Gorilla Forest, is slated to begin in late 2011. Ground broke for the new aquatic facility in October. It will replace the 1960s-era Como Pool. In November, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department began work on the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom project, which will provide an outdoor learning area and the restoration of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace site.

Here’s an update of some of the projects under way at the park:


WPA-era memorial restored

In the southern area of the park, just west of the pool site, stands a half-hidden stone fireplace dedicated to a New Jersey poet known best for his work “Trees” (“I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree . . .”).

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial-also known as the “Dutch Oven”-was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. That structure, which had been covered with graffiti and in general disrepair, is in the heart of the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom and is now being restored.

The park received a $250,000 Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to help remove the graffiti and paint on the fireplace, replace the broken stone, rebuild the firebox and mantels, create and install fireplace gates and restore the fire ring, said Bryan Murphy, landscape architect with the Parks and Recreation Department. The restoration, which is scheduled for completion in April, comes just in time for the memorial’s 75th anniversary in 2011. A rededication is scheduled for May.

The original memorial, which was funded by the Joyce Kilmer American Legion Post (St. Paul parks superintendent at that time, W. Lamont Kaufman, was a member), was a larger complex that included a cascading waterfall, a wooded grove, the fireplace and a plaque with Kilmer’s poem “Trees” hanging from a nearby tree. Only the fireplace remains.

The Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom project includes a 17 3/4-acre woodland restoration with seven woodland “classrooms”: oak savanna, coniferous forest, transitional woodland, oak woodland, sedge meadow, ephemeral wetland and tall grass prairie. Each area will have a series of trails meandering through it, providing visitors with a view of what these respective woodlands are like, Murphy said. Also, each classroom will contain a small clearing with groupings of logs or boulders for seating to accommodate six to eight students. It is hoped the classrooms will be used by local schools, Murphy said.

A $218,000 Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund grant will be used for the first phase of the outdoor classroom project, Murphy said. That work includes removal and management of invasive species, construction of gravel trails, construction of the small clearings, informational signage, the development of an outreach program and an “Educate the Educator” program for teachers in outdoor environmental education.


Pool construction begins

Despite the increased number of amenities planned for the new aquatic center in the park, the new pool area will not be much larger than the one it is replacing, Murphy said. The old facility totaled 28,949 square feet (that included 7,647 square feet of water surface and 21,302 square feet of deck space). The new facility will be 29,231 square feet, 16,218 of which will be dedicated to water surface and 13,013 to deck space. The bather load will be 548, Murphy said.

Ground was broken for the new aquatic center in October. So far, grading has been done for the parking lot and pool area and excavation for the administrative and shower buildings has begun.

The city recently received a $150,000 Solar Energy Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which will go toward installing a solar system that will be used to heat the showers, sinks and pool, Murphy said. That system will also offset some of the heating needed for the winter, as the offices that will be built at the pool will be used year-round by the St. Paul Municipal Athletic Office.

Completion is expected by September 2011, Murphy said, and the pool is tentatively planned to open Memorial Day weekend of 2012.

There are three pools planned for the project:

  • A six-lane lap pool with an adjacent diving well. The pool will flow into a two-lane 25-meter lap pool, featuring a zip-line (a pulley suspended on a cable that bathers can use to traverse across the pool).
  • A splash pool with a zero-depth, beach-like entry that will rise to a depth of 3 feet. The splash pool will have some small water slides along with ground sprays and interactive features where bathers will be able to turn water sprays on and off.
  • The third pool will be a lazy river in which guests can float in a tube down a waterway that will split into either a water slide or an area where there will be spray cannons and guests can spray their friends from the sides as they float along.

The project includes the realignment of Como Avenue near the pool. Two new buildings will house showers, restrooms, admissions, an office and concessions.

A number of trees were removed to accommodate the new facility, but Murphy said they were ash trees that would probably have been removed in the next several years due to the local emerald ash borer infestation. More than 200 new trees will be planted in the area. The new aquatic facility will provide more shade than the old pool, Murphy said, as there will be trees and landscaping inside the pool fencing.The new 215-space parking lot is larger than the old lot to accommodate both pool parking and activity at McMurray Field. The pool restrooms will be accessible to pool guests only.

Historic Streetcar Bridge

There is funding to restore the Historic Streetcar Bridge, the footbridge near the Historic Streetcar Station at 1224 N. Lexington Pkwy., Murphy said. No plans have been finalized for this restoration, but it will likely be restored as “a ruins” with some parts of the bridge remaining and the installation of interpretive boards to show how the bridge was used, what it looked like and its history, he said.


West Picnic play area

Parks and Recreation has approximately $250,000 in funding to build a new play area at the West Picnic play area, Murphy said, but no architect has been assigned to the project yet and no plans have been made for the project.


The only remnant of a Depression-era memorial to poet Joyce Kilmer at Como Regional Park is this fireplace, which is now being restored. (Photo by Sharon Shinomiya)