Final Draft of Duluth's Lakewalk, by JPB

Chapter One, One citizen's viewpoint

"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 honest effort to bicycle or walk on Duluth's Lakewalk. I prefer off road, paved trails where there is little chance of becoming road kill by an inattentive motorist. The Lakewalk has no steep hills to bike up or ride my brakes down. Unlike city streets, there are no recycling boxes or trash cans to avoid, no bike eating potholes to avoid, no 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 Trek 800 Antelope bicycle, fill up my bike's water bottle, 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 a bike trek about noon from Lake Place Park and bicycle five miles to 47th Ave. East? I got really hungry, decided to eat lunch at Sammy's Pizza, and because I was very hungry, that pizza tasted very good. You might say that my lunch was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

Over the years, I've encountered 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, another bicyclist stopped and offered 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.

Being a lifelong Duluthian, I have seen what the Lakewalk has become and what was before the Lakewalk was constructed.

Chapter Two, Let's take an imaginary bicycle ride into the past, before the Lakewalk was real world asphalt, concrete, and wood.

"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. Ever since the 1970s, walking and bicycle advocates dreamed about a cross-town bike path. But, their cycling dreams only went as far as written proposals and lines wishfully drawn on city maps.

Walkers and bicycle riders made their own "informal foot paths" along the railroad tracks between Canal Park and Brighton Beach. The term "informal foot path" was coined by my father, a professional outdoor writer, to describe footpaths created by walkers and bicyclists where no official footpaths or bike paths exist.

However, for walkers or off road bicyclists who used these informal 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. As a child, I saw this section of the lakeshore was littered with bits of carved stone, piles of broken bricks, and iron plumbing pipes. I wondered why anyone would discard two steel office safes in a landfill? 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. Residents and tourists often walked along the active railroad tracks, which is always dangerous and illegal. 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 1970s, 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 1980s the first phase of the Lakewalk, located on the lakeside shore of Canal Park to 27th Ave. 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 1980s, 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 Internet page, 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 Ave. East to 27th Ave. East. The Lakewalk now actually ends at 47 Ave. 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 Ave. East.

The technical terms used by architects and city planners to describe the Lakewalk is a Greenway or a linear park. These are parks are longer than they are wide, designed for recreational use and non-motorized transit. 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 Ave. 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 many other attractions.

According to Tom Kasper, Cit Gardner, and Visit Duluth, the Lakewalk attracts more than one million trail visitors each year. However, I was unable to find who or how this number was determined. 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 Ave. East and 36th Ave. 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.

Think of the Lakewalk as part city sidewalk, part scenic drive. For people walking along London Road between 26th Ave. East and 32nd Ave. 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. Compared to city sidewalks, the Lakewalk offers a shorter and safer route connecting major Duluth parks, hotels, restaurants, shops, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC), and Bayfront Festival Park.

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.

Chapter Three, Bicycle into the future

"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

In 2010, City planners hope to extend the Lakewalk's third phase will extend the trail from 47th Ave. East to 60th Ave. 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 planned for 2011, the Munger Trail is planned to be extended from 75th Ave. West to Canal Park, linking up with the Lakewalk. In 2012, the fourth Lakewalk phase will connect 60th Ave. 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.

Albert Einstein once wrote, "Life is like riding a bicycle in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving." Duluth must keep on moving forwards into the future and keep building bicycle pathways to connect all Duluth neighborhoods into one bicycle network. While imaging a better future for humanity, H.G. Wells wrote, "Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia." Within a few years, I can imagine that Duluth will become a cycling utopia.

Chapter Four, Dairy Queen Delight

"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."
- John F. Kennedy

After I get back to Canal Park, I usually reward myself with a large ice cream cone at Dairy Queen. I then bicycle uphill to my apartment, carry my bike into the building and into my apartment. I park my bike besides my window overlooking the Canal Park. I drink some water or orange juice and don some stretching before I start something new. While I write these words, I can see both my bike in the foreground and the Lakewalk in the background. Unlike some bicyclists, I do not have a pet name for my bicycle. Yet, when I'm maintaining my bike I sometimes talk to it about our next bike ride.


Fun Lakewalk facts

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)."


In an e-mail interview, I asked Sam Cook, Outdoors Writer/Columnist for the Duluth News Tribune about his impressions of Duluth's Lakewalk. Mr. Cook wrote back, "I like the variety of areas that the Lakewalk passes through from Canal Park to 47th Ave. East. I love biking or walking the more wooded area from 26th Ave. East to 36th Ave. 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 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 their workplace? "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 Ave. 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.


In an e-mail I asked Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director, about extending the Lakewalk to Brighton Beach, he replied, "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.

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


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.


When I asked Anthony Cullen, a member of the UMD Cycling Club, 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 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, a curb cut is "A small ramp built into the curb of a sidewalk to ease passage to the street, especially for bicyclists, pedestrians with baby carriages, and physically disabled people." In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that curb cuts be present on all sidewalks.

The Lakewalk is intelligently designed and easy to use, with the exception of the pedestrian bridge located at South Street, between 16th Ave. East and 17th Ave. East. This bridge links South Street with the Lakewalk. 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.

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.

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 sharp 90-degree angle 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 long sidewalk is now partly blocked by wild bushes growing alongside the Interstate's retaining wall. First, it appears this bridge approach is now not compliant with the amended 1994 ADA guidelines. Second, I've seen bicyclists, especially when pulling trailers with small children or tandem bicycles, having trouble riding through this misplaced curb cut.

According to the Duluth Art Institute, the Knight Creative Communities Initiative, created Twin Ports Pathways a committee to support bicycling in Duluth. With the assistance of local supporting organizations and businesses, Twin Ports Pathways funded seven artists who were hired to design custom-made bike racks in downtown Duluth. According to the web site, "The budget for each bicycle rack includes a $1,000 honorarium to each artist whose design is selected, and up to $2,000 for materials, fabrication, transportation and installation." However, just one out of seven bike racks was installed under the pedestrian bridge connecting the Lakewalk and Fitger's.


Along the Lakewalk there are many memorial benches for the enjoyment of trail users. 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.



Amy Norris, Duluth Parks and Recreation

Anthony Cullen, UMD Cycling Club

Jim Miller, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences

Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director (Duluth Parks and Recreation) 2012/Air%20Quality%20Review.pdf raise nearby home values.php

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 my most highly recommend link in this article.

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This page contains a single entry by jbuchana published on April 29, 2010 3:30 PM.

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