New St. Paul Parkland Acquired (MN)

ST. PAUL, MN, 11/27/02 – The City of St. Paul, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service, the Lower Phalen Creek Project and the Trust for Public Land announced today the acquisition of a 27-acre industrial site located near downtown on Saint Paul’s East Side that will be developed into the City’s newest park and a nature sanctuary in honor of the late Congressman Bruce Vento.

Nestled at the foot of tall sandstone bluffs below Indian Mounds Regional Park, the site includes historic caves, natural springs, and remnants of the area’s industrial past. Once a focal point for Native American trade and ceremony, the site also occupies a critical niche in the Mississippi migratory bird flyway where Phalen Creek once flowed into the Mississippi River. It will provide a vital link for the metropolitan region’s trail and open space system and is within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System.

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company sold the ribbon of land to the City of Saint Paul with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources purchasing a conservation easement on the property. Working with the citizen-led Lower Phalen Creek Project and other partners, the City will now begin transforming the land into the new Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and will extend the Bruce Vento Regional Trail to the Mississippi River.

Neighborhood leaders and city planners have long envisioned something a little greener and friendlier forthe former rail yard site. In 1998, the Trust for Public Land offered to provide the fundraising, legal and real estate support needed for the land acquisition. The effort gained significant momentum in 1999 when the DNR’s Metro Greenways program awarded the project $825,000. That public and private commitment helped to leverage $1.3 million from the National Park Service, and numerous foundations and non-profit organizations provided additional support necessary to fund the acquisition of the land. This land had recently been identified by the McKnight Foundation’s Embrace Open Space Campaign as one of the top ten treasures in need of protection in the Twin Cities. It is also a featured project of the Grand Excursion, a celebration of the communities along the upper Mississippi River being spearheaded by the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation.

“This is a good example of what can be done when citizens and non-profits work together with state, local and federal government,” said Metro Greenways coordinator, Al Singer. “It shows how natural amenities are increasingly recognized as a critical livability factor, not just in suburban areas, but in the urban core as well.”

Because of soil contamination and funding issues, creation of the new park has been fraught with challenges, said Susan Schmidt, Minnesota director of the Trust for Public Land.

“This is the culmination of a six-year effort led by a dedicated group of individuals and organizations,” Schmidt said. “This new city park is a testament to true partnerships, in spirit and action. From the grassroots leadership of the Lower Phalen Creek Project citizens group to the support from the foundation community of Minnesota, it’s been an extraordinary effort. We would not be here today without the combined support of The McKnight Foundation, the Butler Family Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, The St. Paul Companies, Inc. Foundation, the McNeely Foundation, Marbrook Foundation, the Wildwood Fund, The Carolyn Foundation and Ecolab Foundation.”

“In the last decade the city of Saint Paul has worked with our state and federal partners to maximize our greatest natural resource, our beautiful Mississippi River,” Mayor Kelly said. “I’m working to continue that resurgence in the passion about the Mississippi and in the redevelopment around it. This nature sanctuary will be a key expression of our care for the Mississippi and a critical component of our community’s future.”

“Congressman Vento was a great champion and protector of parks and open spaces. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Bruce’s legacy than the creation of this beautiful new urban park in his hometown,” said Congressman Martin Olav Sabo, a strong supporter of the Twin Cities Mississippi River Initiatives.

Ultimately, the park will feature habitat for migrating songbirds and other wildlife, a pond that captures water from natural springs, interpretation of the area’s fascinating ecological and human history, and a hard-surface trail link connecting several major regional trail systems that currently dead-end at the site, creating a seamless 85-mile trail network. In addition, the park will connect two city districts, St. Paul’s East Side and Lowertown, both now in the midst of revitalization efforts.

“St. Paul’s East Side and Lowertown neighborhoods joined hands to begin this project, and we look forward to helping the city transform this land into a beautiful natural amenity that will directly link our two historic neighborhoods,” said Weiming Lu, President of the Lowertown Redevelopment Corporation and member of the Lower Phalen Creek Project Steering Committee. “We are especially grateful to the Trust for Public Land in helping us acquire the property. Effective public/private partnerships have brought us to this exciting juncture, and we will need all of our partners to assist in the challenges ahead as we work to realize the incredible potential of the land.”

The sale agreement between the City and the railroad includes a commitment to clean up pollution left behind by past industrial uses. Funding for much of this remediation work has been secured, but the city will be working with the Lower Phalen Creek Project to apply for EPA Brownfield Cleanup funds in December. An estimated $8 million in additional funds will still be required to complete the park and trail improvements. The park and nature sanctuary is slated to be open in the Fall of 2004.

Metro Greenways: Launched under Republican Governor Arne Carlson’s administration, Metro Greenways is a division of the Minnesota DNR that works to facilitate creation of a network of natural areas, parks and open spaces throughout the metropolitan region.

Lower Phalen Creek Project: The Lower Phalen Creek Project is led by a community Steering Committee and powered by 25 supporting and partner organizations. Its focus is to improve water quality, reclaim urban green spaces and revitalize St. Paul’s East Side and Lowertown communities.

Mississippi National River Recreation Area: The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area was established by Congress to protect, preserve, and enhance the significant values of the Mississippi River corridor through the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

The Trust for Public Land: Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit established to conserve land for people in our cities, suburbs and rural communities to improve our quality of life and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations.Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

Additional Quotes

“This park and nature sanctuary is a fitting tribute to Bruce Vento, who left a legacy of environmental stewardship and who knew the importance of preserving our open spaces. His work, and the work of many dedicated individuals and organizations to create this urban sanctuary will be enjoyed by generations to come.”
– United States Senator Mark Dayton

“Today we are connecting communities to nature, a mission that Bruce Vento worked for all his life. With this new park, the people of Saint Paul’s East Side and the entire Twin Cities area will be able to enjoy a better quality of life.”
– United States Congresswoman Betty McCollum

“Saint Paul is a city of neighborhoods and this effort was a tremendous joint effort between Dayton’s Bluff and Lowertown to make a true connection between downtown and the neighborhoods. Bruce Vento cared deeply for environmental causes and to see the culmination of efforts by so many people would truly make him proud that others have continued his important work.”
– Kathy Lantry, St. Paul City Council Member

“We’re delighted that the National Park Service was able to help fund this important acquisition within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Congressman Vento was a great champion of parks for people, and it is a fitting tribute to be able to provide this open space area within the neighborhoods he represented.”
– JoAnn Kyral, Superintendent, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

“The Lower Phalen Creek area has seen so much change over the past two centuries–from a former wetland to an arrival point for immigrants to a railroad switching yard. Now, it’s on the brink of a completely new life as the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary-a testimony to the power of citizens determined to reconnect their neighborhoods to the river, to downtown, to nature, and to each other. This achievement in the protection of open space in the Twin Cities is truly a moment for all of us to celebrate.”
– Rip Rapson, Executive Director of The McKnight Foundation

“Today marks the next step towards realizing the community’s vision of reconnecting the Mississippi River to our neighborhoods. This ambitious undertaking promises an unique ecological experience in the heart of our urban core for generations to come.”
– Patrick Seeb, Executive Director of the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation