Redefining an Alternative Mode Despite cycling’s previous popularity at the turn of the 20th century, almost none of the infrastructure developed at that time remained by the 1970s. In Minneapolis, the bike trails constructed along Lake Harriet and Minnehaha Creek had been turned into bridle paths by the late nineteen-teens. In addition, the post-war suburban boom did not design communities with cycling in mind, making on-street cycling impractical if not treacherous. In the suburbs, the car was dominant, and a new era of planning and development would need to be ushered in to accommodate the newfound interest in cycling. As the regional park agency serving suburban Hennepin County – where the population had been booming since the end of World War II – the Hennepin County Park Reserve District (now Three Rivers Park District) took an early interest in accommodating the public’s growing demand for safe cycling trails. In 1972, a concept plan for a county-wide trail system was created, which examined the opportunities and challenges of developing a comprehensive system of trails that would meet recreational demands while connecting the agency’s varied parklands. Innovative for its time, this plan took a multi-use approach to recreational trail planning. As proposed, the trail system would serve hikers and bikers during the summer months, and snowmobilers and cross-country skiers during the winter – two recreational activities that were also coming of age in the early 1970s. Later that same year, a campaign was launched to begin conversations with the municipalities affected by the regional trail concept plan in an attempt to sell stakeholders on the idea. Preliminary conversations met with cautious approval, providing the
political will necessary to move forward. In 1975, the Minnesota Legislature approved a statute expanding the mission of the Park District to include the development of regional trails, giving the agency the legal authority to pursue actual development. After 10 years of land acquisitions and continued planning, the first segment of the regional trail system finally opened to the public in 1982, linking Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Mississippi River with Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Champlin and Dayton. That same year, nearly 80,000 visitors biked the 9.6-mile corridor, and a new type of park user was born. Additional segments of what became known as the North Hennepin Regional Trail continued to be developed throughout the 1980s, but the task of cobbling together contiguous trail segments proved more difficult than initially anticipated. Developing a clear right-of-way was especially difficult in the first-ring suburbs, where dense development patterns left little land available for a trail corridor. The continuous 40-mile loop trail as envisioned in the 1972 concept plan would not be realized until 1999, when the North Hennepin Regional Trail (later renamed the Medicine Lake and Rush Creek Regional Trails) was substantially completed. Riding the Rails Due to the inherent difficulties of assembling clear rightof-way through previously developed areas, Park District planners quickly began focusing on existing easements in their efforts to identify potential trail corridors. >>
image credit: Three Rivers Park District
However, by the 1970s, a series of events would converge to restore the bicycle to a hint of its former glory. The environmental movement that began in the 1960s was coming of age in the 1970s with the passage and amendment of several key federal laws that brought increased attention to the impact that individuals could have on the environment. At the same time, the United States suffered through two major energy crises in 1973 and 1979 that caused many to question for the first time the automobile’s supremacy as the keystone of American transportation. These factors, along with greater interest in personal fitness that also emerged in the 1970s, realigned the stars, ushering in a new golden age for the bicycle.
Park District landscape architects review regional trail plans in 1976.
Summer 2013 | Issue #17