Century-long planning of 50-mile parkway makes incremental progress

The scenic Grand Rounds parkway connects a series of parks across Minneapolis, and is used by hikers, bicyclists and vehicles.

Mardelle Madsen, Fran Holmsten and Mary Rafferty walk past a map of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. They walk a loop on the East River Parkway section of the byway every Monday. 

Jack Rodgers

Mardelle Madsen, Fran Holmsten and Mary Rafferty walk past a map of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. They walk a loop on the East River Parkway section of the byway every Monday. 

Tiffany Bui

A 50-mile byway encircling Minneapolis is just three miles short of being completed, with the last remaining leg running through parts of Prospect Park and Southeast Como.

Once it is completed, the Grand Rounds trail will connect Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis, providing Ward 2 with pedestrian and bicycle access to the Mississippi River. Through regular project updates, city and park officials hope to boost citizen interest and garner funding for this “Missing Link.”

While many decisions are still up in the air, some portions of the route have been solidified. 27th Avenue Southeast is currently set to connect to the Mississippi.

Proponents of the project are still working to finalize a master plan, even though almost a decade has passed since the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board last renewed planning efforts.  Original plans to complete the Grand Rounds date back a century.

At the most recent meeting last Wednesday, residents discussed different route alternatives.

At the moment, securing project funding is a huge part of the process, said project manager Carrie Christensen. The lack of a master plan makes the Missing Link ineligible for Metropolitan Council funding. Ward 2 Minneapolis Council member Cam Gordon said he will vouch for the trail in a letter to the Met Council as it seeks input on its updated 2040 park plan.

“I think it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get it done, I guess is the attitude,” Gordon said. “I’m just trying to make sure to move forward and at least make sure we have our plan in place so everyone can agree on what we’re pushing forward to get funding and built there.”

Even with regional backing, the trail could still take more than 20 to 30 years to develop, Christenen said.

The Park Board will need to restructure streets or buy land from private property owners to piece together the route. But first, the ten-year-old original master plan must be updated to account for the drastic infrastructure changes in the area.

“It’s a different world than it was ten years ago, and also in some ways it’s very similar. A lot of community members that are coming back to the table were part of the process ten years ago,” said Christensen. “We’re trying to balance all these different needs and hopes.”

Discussions about the unfinished trail have been incorporated into a larger plan focused on parks east of the Mississippi. This opens up an ongoing opportunity for public review and comment on the Missing Link.

Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer is hoping to draw more student voices into the discussion. In order to build awareness of the trail, Meyer is hosting a bike tour of the Missing Link on Oct. 6.

“It’s important for students to show up because the large majority of people who live in the University district are students, and we need to plan these routes with them in mind,” said Meyer. “We need them there to do that.”