Crews recently cut several trees down along the riverbank south of downtown Stillwater to make way for a new walking path along the river. But, they left standing several large specimens near the Dock Cafe’s patio.
The trees had been the subject of significant debate as the restaurant and the city negotiated an easement for the walkway. The city’s only legal route would have required cutting down the trees, which provide scenic screening from the river, and shade for diners on the patio.
“We’ve had some discussions with the Dock Cafe and I guess they’ve come to the table and we’re going to start the discussion of moving the trail back to its original location closer to the river,” Shawn Sanders, public works director told the city council. “It really goes back to our original design with slight modifications.”
The original design had proposed the walkway right next to the river, away from the trees. But the city and restaurant couldn’t agree on adjusting the easement to allow it.
The Dock owners preferred that no trail be built between their patio and the river. They argued that it will be underwater in even minor floods. They also said the trees were there before the restaurant, and had become an important part of the atmosphere.
“It would change the entire ambience of our place,” Sherri Hopfe, general manager and co-owner of the Dock told the Pioneer Press last year. “It takes down all of our trees and all of the shade off our south lawn. That’s where people come and have a drink and sit by the water. It’s where they wait for tables.”
But the city said it not only had a legal right to build the walkway, the project was necessary to protect the river from sewage. A large sewage line runs down the stretch of the bank, carrying waste from the downtown area to the nearby wastewater treatment plant, but erosion has been threatening to expose the pipe in recent years — which could cause a disastrous spill if it ruptures.
Building the walkway is part of an effort to “harden” the bank to prevent further erosion and protect the pipe. The trail will also include three overlooks, including one intended to expand the St. Croix Boat & Packet Company’s loading area.
“Because the St. Croix River through Stillwater is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River, the design must give extra consideration to visual impacts and respect for the existing terrestrial and aquatic communities,” a project feasibility report said.
The $3 million project has received $1.65 million in support from the Department of Natural Resources. The project is expected to be finished by March next year.