Duluth's Lakewalk

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race."
- H.G. Wells

Nearly every day from March until November, I make an effort to bicycle or walk on Duluth's Lakewalk. Speaking for myself, I prefer off-road, paved trails. On these, there is little chance of becoming road kill by an inattentive motorist. On these trails, there are no steep hills to bike up or ride my brakes down. There are few piles of litter to avoid, bike eating potholes to avoid, the possibility of running into someone's mailbox, having to dodge parked cars, or get my eardrums blasted by someone's thunderous car stereo.

Before a bike ride, I check the Weather Channel, inspect my bicycle, make sure that I have some money just in case I get a flat tire and need to take the city bus back home, and lastly do some warmup stretching. Sometimes, I eat two containers of Dole, Mandarins on Orange Gel. These tasty treats this rich in Vitamin C and appear to give me about a two or three-mile per hour increase in my overall speed for twenty to thirty minutes after I eat these.

What is it like to start from Lake Place Park, bicycle five miles, eat a pizza for lunch at Sammy's Pizza at their 47 Avenue East restaurant, and then bicycle another five miles back to Lake Place Park? Answer, I got very hungry from my bicycle ride and therefore I ate one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

You can meet many friendly people on the Lakewalk. Once, my bicycle chain slipped while I was shifting gears. While I was attempting to get the chain back on the gears, some other bicyclist stopped and offers to help me. This man stayed with me until I had gotten my chain back on the gears and I was able to peddle away using my own leg muscles.

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self--reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel . . . the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
- Susan B. Anthony

Before the construction of the Lakewalk, there were few public access points for people to enjoy Duluth's lakeshore. The four public access points were the Ship Canal, Leif Erikson Park, Lester River, and Brighton Beach. In addition, walking and bicycle advocates were dreamed about a cross-town bike path since the 1970's. But, because of a lack of funding, the city of Duluth built few paved trails

Walkers and bicycle riders made their own "informal foot paths" along the railroad tracks between Canal Park and Brighton Beach. However, for walkers or off road bicyclists who used these paths were trespassing on private property. The private property was owned by railroads, small scale industry, warehouses, junkyards, and filled in areas created by dumping the debris and rubble from demolished buildings. The lakeshore was littered with bits of carved stone, broken bricks, iron plumbing pipes, and even two discarded steel safes. Where Lake Place Park now stands, was a flat stretch of land for a railroad yard and abandoned warehouses.

Additionally, these informal paths were narrow, uneven, were often muddy, and passed through thick underbrush. Thus, people often walked along the active railroad tracks, which is always dangerous and illegal. Thus, only the brave and the bold chose to trespass across private property to reach the lakeshore for daytime fishing, swimming, and rock collecting. While at night, these areas that would become the Lakewalk became dark stretches of land that attracted lovers, teen drinking, graffiti artists, and drug dealers. In short, with limited public lakeshore access, far fewer residents and tourists visited Duluth's lakeshore then they do today.

During the 1970's, Duluth Canal Park was a declining industrial area and Grandma's Restaurant was the only popular destination in Canal Park for ordinary citizens. What is now a city block long parking lot between Canal Park Drive and South Lake Avenue was a major junkyard surrounded by an ugly fence and connected by a railroad spur. Canal Park was a place people normally drove through, not drove to.

Amy Norris, employed by Duluth Parks and Recreation Department, told me that in the 1980's the first phase of the Lakewalk, located on the lakeside shore of Canal Park to 27th Avenue East, was constructed along with Interstate 35 in Downtown Duluth. Before the construction of Interstate 35, Canal Park and the lakeshore were occupied by warehouses, a railroad yard, junkyards, and a few low income homes

During the 1980's, communities of all sizes and all over the world were rediscovering their waterfronts. Abandoned or underused industrial land was transformed into parks, restaurants, retail shops, and hotels. Following this worldwide trend, Duluth city planners revised a one- hundred-year-old plan to create a world class park on Canal Park's lakeshore side. This park plan appears similar to today's Leif Erickson Park's Rose Garden, but the city never had enough money to construct the park as this plan proposed. Thus, city planners applied for and obtained Federal Enhancement Grant Money to build this project that a part of the 1986 Downtown Duluth Waterfront Plan that proposed the Lakewalk, along with a number of other enhancements to improve the quality of life for Duluth citizens. In 1992 and again in 1994, the Duluth I-35 extension and Lake Place won Federal Highway Administration "Excellence in Highway Design" awards.

Duluth city planners used the federal grant money to use waste rock, created by digging out the space for the Interstate tunnels, to greatly extend the lakeshore and create the first phase of the Lakewalk. Without the waste rock, the city of Duluth could not have afforded to extend the lakeshore and thus build the Lakewalk on the expanded shoreline. First, dumping the waste rock onto the lakeshore, and to build reefs to encourage recreational fishing, saved millions of dollars to dump the waste rock far from the construction site. Second, just notice where the shoreline is in relationship to the concrete wharf known as Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum in photos before and after the Lakewalk was constructed. It is a common practice to extend shorelines with waste rock from nearby construction projects. For example, New York City's World Trade Center needed to dig out a vast area of soil and rock that was then used to create new land that became Battery Park City on the west side of Lower Manhattan.

According to the Duluth Parks and Recreation web site, Duluth's Lakewalk official southern end is at Bayfront Festival Park. The trail from Bayfront Festival Park to Canal Park is on existing concrete sidewalks.

However, some city park maps show the southern end as the intersection of Morse Street and Canal Park Drive. This part of the trail has an entrance gate and the "Determined Mariner" statue. Trail construction coincided with the construction of the Interstate. The first section of the Lakewalk was constructed from Canal Park to 21st Ave East. Then the trail's second section extended from 21st Avenue East to 27th Avenue East. The Lakewalk now actually ends at 47 Avenue East. However, for some reason the Parks and Recreation web site as well as Goggle Maps have not been updated and still show the trail's northern end at 27th Avenue East.

The technical terms used by architects and city planners to describe the Lakewalk is a Liner Park or a Greenway, and is classified as a recreational and non-motorized transit park. Such long and narrow parks are common throughout the world, the most famous being the Promenade plantée "walk with trees" in Paris, France; the High Line in New York City, NY; and the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn. However, the Canal Park section of the Lakewalk could be unique in the world in having three trails constructed along the same corridor.

The first trail is a seven-foot wide boardwalk that is intended for pedestrians, which starts at Canal Park and ends the Fitgers Inn pedestrian bridge. The boardwalk is constructed of an extremely durable hardwood known as Ipe. The second trail is ten foot wide asphalt trail, intended for bicyclists and rollerbladers. The trail's southern end is at Canal Park and the northern end is at 47th Avenue East. The third trail is a twelve-foot wide gravel path for carriage rides that extend from Corner of the Lake Park to Morse Street.

Between Corner of the Lake Park and Leif Erikson Park, a double track railroad was reduced to one track to make room for the boardwalk and the bike path. Between the Northland Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Fitger's bridge the bike path narrows to eighty inches wide or about half the width of the rest of the pathway. The bike path is far too narrow for the four wheel surrey bikes or bike trailers to pass each other without one detouring onto the boardwalk.

This section of the trail is so popular that during the summer so many people use that section that I've seen human and bicycle traffic jams on the trail. To my untrained eyes, there appear to be more people on the Lakewalk than on Superior street sidewalks. Some members of the UMD's cycling club avoid that part of the trail to avoid the crowds. I would really love to see that trail section widened to at least the width of the other parts of the trail.

Along the Lakewalk are information kiosks, parking lots; the 580-foot-long "Image Wall" crafted from 1.27 million ceramic tiles that portrays images of Lake Superior maritime activity, designed by artist Mark Marino; the International Sculpture Garden, the Northland Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, and memorial benches. Amy Norris told me that someone can purchase a Lakewalk memorial bench for $2.500 dollars. I consider that a good price for something that tens of thousands of people will enjoy for about sixty years.

According to Tom Kasper, Cit Gardner, and Visit Duluth, the Lakewalk attracts more than one million trail visitors each year. The Lakewalk is a world class showcase for a city to make an asset of what was not so long ago underused industrial property. The Lakewalk has become a signature draw and icon for the city of Duluth. It plays an important role in keeping Duluth citizens healthy, while giving them a safe path to bicycle or walk to downtown employment. Currently, this section of the trail is now 6.2 miles long.

The Lakewalk section between 27th Avenue East and 36th Avenue East, with an expensive 125- foot bridge over Tischer Creek was completed in 2008. The 36th to 47th section was completed in 2009. Despite this extension, many runners and bicyclists still complain that the Lakewalk is still too short for a great run or bike ride.

"For instance, the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created: Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon."
- Bill Strickland

Think of the Lakewalk as part city sidewalk, part scenic drive. For people walking along London Road between 26th Avenue East and 32nd Avenue East, the Lakewalk is the only direct way to go from one avenue to the other avenue, other than a long detour by walking uphill to Greysolon Road. On East Superior Street, the Lakewalk provides a much needed second sidewalk on the lakeside side of the street.

As the Lakewalk attracts people and whenever people gather at one area is a place where small businesses can find a way to make a profit. Trail users can rent bicycles at the Canal Park Lodge and from Wheel Fun Rentals. Families have already put up Lemonade stands on the trail and used the Lakewalk fence to post notices. A number of home owners have spruced up their landscaping alongside the Lakewalk.

Suppose that you are interesting in renting an apartment or buying a home within a half-mile of Duluth's paved trails? Even if you don't plan to use the trail yourself, buying land near a paved trail is a good investment. According to the Missouri Bicycle News Article posted an article that stated that "Trails raise nearby home values an average of $13,000." In 2010, City planners hope to extend the Lakewalk's third phase will extend the trail from 47th Avenue East to 60th Avenue East. In 2011, the Lakewalk's fifth phase will connect Highway 61 to Brighton Beach. City planners have not yet decided upon a bridge or tunnel will span Highway 61.

Also in 2011, the Munger Trail is planned to be extended from 75th Avenue West to Canal Park, linking up with the Lakewalk. In 2012, the fourth Lakewalk phase will connect 60th Avenue East to Highway 61. If I was in the market for my first home, I would choose to buy one that is within a half-mile of the Lakewalk. I also suspect that longtime walking and bicycle advocates will be very happy that their vision of a paved, off-road, cross town trail will finally be complete on the day the fourth and last section of Duluth's Lakewalk officially opens.

"Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving."
- Albert Einstein



I asked Jim Miller, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Duluth about the rock that was used from the construction of the Interstate 35 tunnels.

He replied, "Good question. There are several types of rock observable along the Lakewalk. Some is derived from the local 'bedrock' exposed along the shoreline - these are mostly 1.1 billion-year-old igneous rock (basalt, gabbro) and some sedimentary rock (exposed in the vicinity of Leif Erickson Park). But some of the blocks along the lake walk have been 'imported'. Some of the big blocks along the stretch below Fitgers are pieces of dark iron formation from the Mesabi Range. Other whitish blocks are a rock called anorthosite that may have come from the quarry at Carlton Peak (near Temperance River State)."


Sam Cook, Outdoors Writer/Columnist for the Duluth News Tribune told me that the following about his impressions of Duluth's Lakewalk. Mr. Cook wrote, "I like the variety of areas that the Lakewalk passes through from Canal Park to 47th Avenue East. I love biking or walking the more wooded area from 26th Avenue East to 36th Avenue east, crossing a creek or ravine along the way, basically being flanked by trees. That's because I love being in the woods. But I also really enjoy the Canal Park end on a warm summer night with lots of tourists in town. I imagine Duluth as a San Antonio, with its river walk area, or as Ottawa, with its path along the Ottawa River. I like to hear snippets of tourist conversations as I walk the Canal Park section on a summer night, and we almost always see someone from Duluth we know. In that way, the Lakewalk contributes to a sense of community."

When I asked Mr. Cook about the triple trail on Canal Park's lakeshore, he replied, "I don't get to a lot of other cities, but, no, I don't know of any other three-in-one trails. I think it's a tribute to city planners that our trail accommodates several different kinds of use." I agree that I'm not aware of any other city park that has three different types of trails side-by-side.

I told Mr. Cook that my friend Howard Hendrickson told me that he believes that good weather is the main factor in deciding if people walk or bicycle a nearby trail or not. I then asked Mr. Cook if he believes if Howard's opinion that weather influences trail use is true or not?

Mr. Cook replied, "I think your friend Howard is exactly right about weather influencing use of almost any trail. Most people like nice weather, and that's what makes them want to get outside. One exception might be that when we have a big northeast wind and the lake is really rocking, people will come to the Lakewalk downtown to watch the waves come crashing in or feel the spray that flies ashore. Duluthians embrace a lot of different kinds of weather."

I then asked Mr. Cook if he was aware of any Duluth News Tribune employees or anyone else who use the Lakewalk to commute to and from work? "I have fellow employees who bike to work, but I don't know if they use the Lakewalk or not. I suspect some do. I use it myself when I bike in, riding down from the hill, then catching it at 26th Avenue East and riding on downtown. If everyone started his or her day this way, we'd all be much happier at work, I think. You ride along that lakeshore next to that amazing body of water in its various states of color and texture, and you think how lucky we are to live here." I would add that taking more trips using human powered transit would require some changes in our thinking about commuting to work, as well as providing shower rooms and changing areas at our places of work. These are possible tasks, but ones that will require some effort to bring about.

When I asked Mr. Cook about the possibility that Duluth could be the midpoint of a paved trail network from the Twin Cities to Canadian border, Mr. Cook replied, "Certainly, I think that connecting the Lakewalk both from the west and to the east would bring more use to the trail within the city. Duluth would be the primary destination (motels, restaurants, etc.) allowing people to explore in either direction from here. That said, I think most people tend to use the trail in shorter stretches, from a few blocks to a few miles at a time. Not many people are going to hike/bike the entire length of such a long trail."

Mr. Cook ended his letter by saying, "Hope that helps, James. Let me know if you need more."


Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director, has written that "Duluth's best loved tourist attraction is Lake Superior! Extending the Lakewalk and providing more access to the lake itself at Brighton Beach is only going to enhance our guest/visitors experience. The St. Louis and Lake Counties Regional Rail Authority has granted access to the North Shore Scenic Railroad's right of way to accommodate this planned expansion. Having our train run alongside it is good for the us as more people see and hopefully want to ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad while enjoying their visit to Duluth." In short, trail users will be inspired to ride the scenic railroad, while scenic railroad riders will be inspired to use the trail.

I asked Mr. Buehler if Northen Lights Express or NLX will assist bicycle riders, day riders and bicycle campers. Mr. Buehler replied that NLX trains will have bike friendly cars that will carry people's baggage and their bikes, canoes, and kayaks. This ability to transport bulky baggage gives the NLX advantages over other forms of public transportation such as airplanes and buses.

I asked Mr. Buehler about the possibility of building a chained network of paved trails for the Twin Cities to Grand Marais. He replied, "I am a great fan of the North Shore Hiking trail (Gitchi-Gami State Trail). I have spent many hours on it and can see the benefit of having a hiking trail from Hinckley to Grand Marais. People will be able to take the TRAIN from Minneapolis to Hinckley and walk north as well as take the train from Duluth/Superior and hike back."

"However, my experience with nature loving guest/visitors is that they are very welcome and appreciated but that their economic impact is marginal. This is a market that we will encourage to ride the TRAIN and make available to them all of our resources for carrying bikes, nap sacks and tents, but their economic impact on the region, because of their choice of recreation, is minimal when compared to a family of five up here for a weekend at a hotel with meals, attractions and souvenirs as their preferred way to enjoy our community. This is not to discourage the trail users, but it is reality."


The Lakewalk trail clearly benefits the people who use the trail. But, what about people, who will for whatever reason, will never use the Lakewalk? Missouri Bicycle News Article posted an article that stated that "Trails raise nearby home values an average of $13,000."

In Dec. 2003, the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment released a study exploring the impact of the Monon Trail and other greenways on Indianapolis (IN) property values. Here are some of the results (courtesy of Connie Szabo Schmucker, Executive Director, Indiana Bicycle Coalition):

The study used local housing data to help determine whether living close to the Monon Trail added value to a home. Then, using sophisticated statistical techniques, they were able to show what Realtors already know intuitively: People pay more for properties with good schools, nice parks and amenities like the Monon Trail. . . .

For homes within 1/2 mile of the Monon Trail (10.5 mile trail), the sales premium is $13,059. Approximately 8,862 households are located near the Monon Trail. If this premium applies to each of those homes, the total increase in property values in Marion County associated with the Monon Trail is $115.7 million.


Trails provide a measurable boost to local communities. In an online article, "Build it and they will come and spend; Pennsylvania's Pine Creek Rail Trail" had this to say about the economic impact of bicycle trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy conducted a survey there last year that proves the adage heard in the movie Field of Dreams: "Build it and they will come."

The survey found that not only do they come, but they contribute to the local economies. While the trail has cost about $12.6 million to build since 1995, the Pine Creek survey determined that visitors spend from $5 million to $7 million a year, most of which is spent in the local communities along the trail.

Local spending

While some of the spending for "hard goods" such as bicycles went to businesses around the state, local spending for food and snacks totaled $2.5 million to $3.6 million and for lodging tallied between $1.3 million to $1.9 million.

The trail's impact on the economy has been great. 82% of the respondents said they had purchased bikes, accessories or clothing for an average expenditure of $354. Further, 86% reported they spent money on such "soft goods" as lunches, ice cream, drinks to the tune of an average $30 per trip.

Another boon to the local economy, 57% said they spent at least one night in the area. On average, the overnighters spend just more than three nights per visit and spend $69 per night.

Owners of general stores, restaurants and hotels in towns along the route were interviewed, and they all agreed that business had picked up since the trail opened, and many had added new products and more employees.


Anthony Cullen, a member of the UMD Cycling Club, told me that even if the Lakewalk was extended to Brighton Beach that their club would not use it for club events. The Lakewalk would have to be connected to the Munger Trail to achieve the required 20-mile minimum distance for them to have a worthwhile bicycle ride. Mr. Cullen says that their typical day bicycler rides range from 20 to fifty miles, while their overnight camping rides are about one hundred miles.

When I asked Mr. Cullen about a trail network from Hinkley to Grand Marais, he replied, "If this was to be done it would definitely be awesome! I believe the trail that is currently being worked on is the north shore trail that currently starts in Silver Bay and goes about forty miles."

When I asked him to imagine a network of paved trails from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, he replied, "Yes, I can imagine this. Our club has traveled from Duluth to Canada, so this would definitely be of interest."


Lakewalk's Unkind Curb Cut

According to Wikipedia, "A curb cut (U.S.), curb ramp, dropped kerb (UK), or pram ramp, Kerb ramp (Australia) is a ramp leading smoothly down from a sidewalk to a street, rather than abruptly ending with a curb and dropping roughly 4-6 inches (10-15 cm)."

The Lakewalk is intelligently designed and easy to use, with the exception of the pedestrian bridge located at South Street, between 16th Avenue East and 17th Avenue East. A metal sign names this structure as Minnesota Bridge numbered 69838, a pedestrian bridge that is built over Interstate 35 and links South Street with Duluth's Lakewalk. You can see a wonderful view from the bridge of the Lake Superior, Duluth's lakeshore, and Park Point, if you can get on the bridge.

Unfortunately, at this location the curb cut from street level to the bridge is misplaced ten feet to the left side of the South Street bridge entrance. The curb cut should have been place directed in the center of the bridge approach. Or, there should have been a wide sidewalk between the ten- foot distance between the curb cut and the bridge.

As this access ramp was built, the surface between the retaining wall to the edge of the curb is 47 inches. However, there are only 32 inches of flat and therefore usable sidewalk for ten feet between the curb cut and the bridge. Updated and revised in 2004, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities state that walking surfaces should have a clear width minimum of 36 inches. Here are the guidelines as written up in the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities


403 Walking Surfaces
403.1 General. Walking surfaces that are a part of an accessible route shall comply with 403.

403.2 Floor or Ground Surface. Floor or ground surfaces shall comply with 302.

403.3 Slope. The running slope of walking surfaces shall not be steeper than 1:20. The cross slope of walking surfaces shall not be steeper than 1:48.

403.4 Changes in Level. Changes in level shall comply with 303.

403.5 Clearances. Walking surfaces shall provide clearances complying with 403.5.

EXCEPTION: Within employee work areas, clearances on common use circulation paths shall be permitted to be decreased by work area equipment provided that the decrease is essential to the function of the work being performed.

403.5.1 Clear Width. Except as provided in 403.5.2 and 403.5.3, the clear width of walking surfaces shall be 36 inches (915 mm) minimum.

EXCEPTION: The clear width shall be permitted to be reduced to 32 inches (815 mm) minimum for a length of 24 inches (610 mm) maximum provided that reduced width segments are separated by segments that are 48 inches (1220 mm) long minimum and 36 inches (915 mm) wide minimum.

(There is a nifty graphic that better illustrates the concept below the written description.)

According to the text and the graphic, the maximum length a sidewalk can be 32 inches wide is 24 inches, not the ten feet or 120 inches on this current bridge approach.

Minnesota pedestrian bridge 69838 was built in 1989 and was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. So, therefore, this bridge approach is now not compliant with the amended 1994 ADA guidelines.

Yet, I'm sure that the guidelines did not consider that in this situation there is a concrete retaining wall on one side of the sidewalk. This means that when a wheelchair user traveling from South Street to the bridge must make a right hand turn on a steep grade, and then up a narrow sidewalk. To make matters even worse, as you can see from the photographs this ten foot sidewalk is now partly blocked by wild bushes growing alongside the Interstate's retaining wall.



Amy Norris, Duluth Parks and Recreation

Anthony Cullen, UMD Cycling Club

Jim Miller, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences

Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director

http://www.duluthmn.gov/parks/lakewalk.cfm (Duluth Parks and Recreation)



http://www.dsmic.org/documentstore/TransportationImprovementPrograms(TIPs)/2009-2012/Ai r%20Quality%20Review.pdf





Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune, March 31, 2010, "OUTLOOK 2010: Plan to connect trails in Duluth unveiled"


This site has a link to the June 2003 Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Bike Map. Despite being dated, this map shows many Twin Port's bike trails, several of which I was not aware of. The site also has much useful information to bicyclists that makes this the most highly recommend link in this article.

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This page contains a single entry by jbuchana published on April 20, 2010 2:02 PM.

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