In efforts to make the Mississippi River more accessible to the Twin Cities community, the city of St. Paul has been working to create a recreational and educational center at Crosby Farm Regional Park off Shepard Road.
In June, designers with W. Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York shared three potential concept drawings for the area in Highland Park. The public was able to share their opinions on the three concepts via an online survey. Now, the design has been refined to one general concept and more detailed plans were unveiled last week.
Through the survey, focus groups and various community meetings, the Mississippi River Learning Center experience has been honed down to four ideals. The city wants it to be a welcoming gateway, an accessible campus, a place to touch the Mississippi River and a chance to connect with nature.
The latest design elements, which include revamping the existing Watergate Marina on the city-owned 25-acre site, call for:
- A classroom space by the river featuring canoe and other equipment rentals, public restrooms and a cafe, which would be connected to a bluff-top visitor’s office by an elevated “canopy walk.”
- The visitor’s office would host the Great River Passage Conservancy, the National Park Service and the nonprofit Mississippi Park Connection. Public restrooms and vending machines would also be located within the office space.
- At the marina, a new boathouse would be built as well as marina offices for boat repair and servicing.
- The plan also calls for excavating a channel in the river to create an island accessible via a bridge. This would allow visitors to easily explore along the river.
- Also proposed is a “Falls to Farm” trail that would connect Crosby Farm Regional Park to the adjacent Hidden Falls Regional Park.
The River Learning Center would be owned by the city, with the various tenants leasing space and covering operational expenses. The overall project, whose cost hasn’t been finalized, is to be funded with public and private resources. The city unsuccessfully sought $20 million in state bonding money during the 2022 legislative session.
The construction timeline also has yet to be finalized pending final design approval this fall. But completion by 2026 is contemplated, barring any obstacles.
Along with the River Learning Center project, the Great River Passage Conservancy is planning for two more major projects along the St. Paul riverfront.
There are proposals for a 1½-mile promenade along the downtown bluffs called the River Balcony and a design to connect the East Side River District, including Pig’s Eye Lake, with the rest of the city.