Accessible park ideas taking shape – Xcel High Bridge is potential park site

About 50 acres of land below St. Paul’s Mississippi River High Bridge could be transformed into an accessible children’s playground, […]

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About 50 acres of land below St. Paul’s Mississippi River High Bridge could be transformed into an accessible children’s playground, as well as space for the St. Paul Police Mounted Patrol and an off-leash dog park. Ideas for the land are being discussed by area residents, prospective park users and land owner, Xcel Energy.

A group including St. Paul Parks and Recreation, Planning and Economic Development (PED), Police, the Riverfront Corporation, neighborhood residents and parents of special needs children has been discussing ideas for the property, at the request of Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune. “We’d like to hear peoples’ ideas for the site and what they’d like to see put down there,” said Thune.

The site was vacated when the old High Bridge power plant was torn down in 2007-2008. Xcel would maintain ownership of the property but would give the city a long-term lease for its use. No set timeline has been announced for developing the park, which would need city as well as Xcel corporate approval.

High Bridge Plant Manager Jim Zyduck said the possibilities of public use of the site are intriguing. Although any plan would have to be approved by Xcel at the corporate level, Zyduck believes there would be support for public use of the space.

“The idea of providing play opportunities for children with special needs is especially exciting,” Zyduck said.

The West Seventh/Fort Road Federation is the district council or neighborhood association for the area. Federation President David Brede-mus said the ideas for the park would bring recreation features the community doesn’t have. It would also develop a prime riverfront site.

“There is a lot of interests in seeing something happen with that land,” he said.
Thune said he’d like to see the park meet needs that aren’t met by other St. Paul parks. He has fielded numerous requests from parents of children with disabilities, who’d like to see the City of St. Paul build an accessible playground. Most of the city’s parks don’t have equipment that can be easily used by children with disabilities, such as swings designed for use by children in wheelchairs. One parent who spoke at a recent neighborhood meeting has a child in a wheelchair. The family has to travel elsewhere to find a park their child can enjoy.

“There’s all kinds of equipment kids with disabilities can use,” said Thune. He is also interested in seeing if park space can be designed for children who need quiet time, having heard a need for that from the parents of an autistic child.

Another idea that community members have expressed interest in is having the St. Paul Mounted Patrol horses stabled in a building at a park. The horses currently are stabled in Lake Elmo, and have to be transported back and forth when they are needed for patrols or special events. The horses could be stabled at the park. The horses could also be available for volunteer activities with disabled children, including the “We Can Ride” program.

A third idea that has found support is putting in a senior citizen exercise area or exercise trail with trail stations to test agility and fitness. Thune said he hears a number of requests for such equipment. Those concepts and other ideas are being sketched into plans by the Riverfront Corporation.

A lot of things would have to fall into place before any park proposal is developed, said Gregory Page of the Riverfront Corporation. The city’s budget constraints mean that other private partners might have to be brought in to cover the park costs.

But Thune, neighborhood residents and city staff said they believe there would be many prospective partners to help with a park, given the unique nature of what is proposed.

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