The city of Stillwater is developing designs for a three-quarter mile Riverwalk on the banks of the St. Croix River, downstream of downtown. The project is intended to stabilize a badly-eroding shoreline, protect a sewer line, and provide a dedicated pedestrian walkway on the banks of the river.
The new path will connect on its north end to the existing levee, by the Dock Cafe, and extend south in parallel to the new Loop Trail. It will come to an end near Sunnyside Marina.
Architectural renderings of the walkway were presented to the Stillwater Heritage Preservation Commission on August 21, responding to concerns about the project’s visual impact on the river, as well as historic sites in the area. The commission ultimately approved the design, moving it forward to the city’s planning commission.
Shoreline erosion has been significant along the stretch of river, with city council member Dave Junker saying in recent years that 18 inches of the bank have “been lost to high water erosion.”
The shoreline will be hardened with rocks and vegetation, which is also intended to reduce the path’s visual impact on the river. Some trees, mostly cottonwoods, will be removed and replaced as part of the bank stabilization effort. New trees will be planted, as well as native grasses and other vegetation.
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“The tree replacement plan will help ensure that a diversity of mature vegetation exists into the future,” wrote city planner Abbi Jo Wittman.
Three river overlooks are also included in the design. The northernmost overlook will be near the St. Croix Boat & Packet Co. docks, and will help manage people getting on and off the docks, and may connect with gangways in the future.
The concrete structures will be stained brown to better blend in with the banks, based on a request by the DNR, which is in charge of protecting the river’s scenic qualities in the area.
Wittman said the overlook design conforms to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway’s design principles, and it is supported by Department of Natural Resources and National Park Service. Construction is intended to balance its strength and durability against ice, water, and other forces, and a wish for the structures to “sit lightly” on the river bank.
“While the concrete walkway will be visible from the river, the improvement will help visually frame the separation between the water and land,” wrote city planner Abbi Jo Wittman in the proposal.
Funding for the $3.3 million trail is being split between the city and the state, with both Stillwater and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources contributing $1.65 million. The state funds come from bonding approved by the legislature in 2018.
The trail may give new access to the historic site of the Hersey & Bean Lumber Company complex, which was built around 1853.
The large lumber mill included wooden piers over the river and other significant structures where the new path will be now. In fact, much of the shoreline in the area was formed from sawdust.
The walkway will also pass by two historic structures moved to the location as part of the St. Croix Crossing construction mitigation.
Shoddy Mill and Warehouse was part of a recycling business that produced rags to use in mattresses, and is considered a significant part of Minnesota’s early Jewish history.
Now that the Heritage Preservation Commission has approved it, the plans will be submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, in addition to the city’s planning commission.