A Return to the River in the Twin Cities: Minneapolis


This is a guest blog from American Rivers interns Sam Padgett and Johannes Dreisbach.


Ford Parkway Bridge, Minneapolis, MN

Ford Parkway Bridge, Minneapolis, MN | 2008 National Park Service

Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to some of the country’s richest outdoor resources, abounding with parks, nature, and wildlife.  

The Mississippi River, the fifth longest river in the world, provides life and excitement for those who inhabit the neighborhoods along its shores.  In the Twin Cities, the Mississippi provides outstanding recreational experiences through the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service.

In order to improve the river and the communities surrounding it, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a 20-year vision called RiverFirst in March of this year.  This comprehensive plan will connect communities back to the river through a combination of river restoration and economic development efforts.  

Many agencies have come together with one common goal: to help businesses and neighborhoods grow.  The initiative builds on the long-standing work of groups like Friends of the Mississippi River and Great River Greening to improve water quality, wildlife habitat, and public access to the river.

Minneapolis’ origin and growth was based upon the production of sawmills and flour mills.  This once industry-based community is again turning to the river to drive its growth and meet its future objectives, only this time those objectives include promoting outdoor recreation and preserving wildlife habitat and clean water. 

Meet Minneapolis, the city’s visitors association, hopes to make the metropolis a popular outdoor destination for tourists.  Their focus is to make Minneapolis’ tagline of City by Nature become reality by making the riverfront, parks, and trails their priority.

Under the RiverFirst plan, five key projects have been developed, which will enhance water quality, the wildlife environment, and the aesthetic characteristics of the community.  Phase one of the plan consists of improving greenways [PDF], or scenic recreation trails, to connect already existing parks and paths into one network.

BioHaven Floating islands will also be created on the Mississippi River.  They are designed to mimic the water filtering functions of natural wetlands while providing some habitat for plants and animals that live in and around rivers.

Other goals for the RiverFirst project are to revamp the Scherer Park District, Northside Wetlands Park, and the Downtown Gateway.  Parks, trails, and bridges are being updated and renovated, including the Ford Parkway Bridge which spans the Mississippi.

Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis, MN

Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis, MN | 2008 National Park Service

These projects are estimated to commence in 2013 and be completed by 2016. Five and one-half miles of winding bike trails and paths will create greater public access to the Mississippi River and its surrounding businesses, which is especially beneficial to the Northside and the West Metro sections, which currently have limited access.  By reclaiming and repurposing the old public spaces as well as bringing in new green areas, RiverFirst’s plan will make the city much more nature-friendly.   

To see more information on the RiverFirst Priority Projects, see the RiverFirst Initiative factsheet [PDF]. Minneapolis and many cities just like it are making an effort to protect the rivers that bring life to our communities.  Right across the Mississippi, Saint Paul, Minnesota is also updating its community with a new and improved Great River Passage Master Plan.  Similar to RiverFirst, the Great River Passage is meant to connect urban residents back to nature.

In some areas, the Twin Cities are working together to provide greater access to the Mississippi and a more nature-based and aesthetically pleasing space for the surrounding communities to enjoy.  These efforts will help Minnesota’s residents and visitors better connect with the incredibly important river.

How is your community connecting people to their local rivers and streams?