‘The Gopher Way’ tunnel system offers warmth, convenience

They call me “the gopher.” I live in the tunnels.

I have always taken harsh weather as a personal affront to my character – the deliberate handiwork of some sinister god, hell-bent on making me suffer. And since I have never had the gumption to move away from the Midwest, I have taken great, almost irrational, pains to limit my exposure to the elements. So those of you new and returning students who share my delusions of persecution, join me on a tour of the Twin Cities tunnel and skyway system.

While the Williamson/Northrop route affords the most shelter, it is also the most confusing. No matter how thoroughly you gaze at the maps, you are going to get lost. And while most professors on campus are understanding folks, saying “I got lost in the tunnels” is not an excuse to rely on. So here’s the skeleton key to the Williamson/ Northrop route:

1. Enter Williamson Hall, and head toward the Starbucks stand just past the stairs leading up and out of the building. Enter the hallway on your left marked with a sign next to it reading “Nolte Center.”

2. Once in the hallway you will see a sign ahead that says “Montague’s” in stylized script. No, this is not the home of Romeo of fair Verona, but neither is it where you are headed, unless of course you want a cup of soup. Turn right and head sharply through glass doors. This is your first tunnel – enjoy.

3. This tunnel will carry through to the Nolte Center basement, where a tiled corridor (with a slight ramp) will carry you to a lobby at Pillsbury Hall.

4. Pillsbury is your first chance to get lost. But, before you start banging like a lunatic on the doors of administrative offices, you will pull yourself together and notice a door leading to the Northrop Garage. Open that door and head down the stairs into the garage.

5. Once in Northrop Garage, you will have the choice of heading to Johnston Hall – where your tunnel adventure will end due to construction being done on Walter Library – or going to Morrill Hall – the gateway to the East Bank.

6. If you head out of the Northrop Garage door and start walking straight, you’ll see “Morrill Hall” written on the garage door to your left.

7. Once in Morrill Hall, you will enter another lobby and experience your second opportunity to get lost. But fear not gentle pilgrim, practice has shown me the way. In the lobby there will be an elevator – take it to the basement.

8. Once in the basement you will see a room of vending machines (best on the East Bank, I might say – try the granola bars.) Just past it there’ll be a sign for the Gopher Way. This tunnel system, with its whitewashed twists and turns, will take you through the Tate Lab of Physics, through Murphy Hall’s basement and into Ford Hall, where it ends. There is moderate opportunity for getting lost here. My advice to you is not to get creative. Just follow the “Gopher Way” signs set up at key junctures, and you’ll be fine. You can also follow the gut-like pipe works lining the ceilings.

The Williamson/Northrop route takes about fifteen minutes longer than walking outside. But not only can it get you through Northrop Mall on an icy day, it can also take you within steps of other tunnel and skyway systems.

West Bank

The West Bank tunnel system is pure poetry. Every building, except the Art Building, is connected by a tunnel or skyway. And, in addition to its thoroughness, it is also very easy to navigate. The West Bank skyway is your friend – it’s the bridge leading to buildings on either side of Washington Avenue, which is frustrating to cross on foot or bike.

The tunnel systems here are great fun. I’ve managed to make them my home and my kingdom, but I have a few words of advice for the average spelunker: One, most tunnels are monitored by cameras to ensure the safety of fellow travelers, so although you may think you are alone this might not be the best place to think aloud or practice any sort of wild performance art after hours. Two, look aware and walk confidently. I am a friendly tunnel dweller but I cannot speak for all folks who use the tunnels. Three, whistle a lot – the acoustics down there are great. If you’re singing you might get some looks, but everyone whistles.

“The Gopher Way: Twin Cities Campus Tunnel and Skyway System” brochures with detailed maps are available at Parking and Transportation Services, 511 Washington Ave., Room 300.