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.
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. Bits of carved stone, broken bricks, iron plumbing pipes, and even two discarded steel safes littered the lakeshore.
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 a dark stretch that attracted lovers, teen drinking, and drug dealers. In short, with limited lakeshore access, far fewer residents and tourists visited Duluth's lakeshore than 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 drive 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. The Lakewalk now actually ends at 47 Avenue East, but 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.
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.
Opened in 1988, 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.
People can rent bicycles at the Can Park Lodge and from Wheel Fun Rentals.
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.
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. I suspect that walkers and bicyclists will be very happy on the day the fourth and last section of Duluth's crosstown, paved trail network officially opens.
From March until November, I often bicycle or walk on the Lakewalk, often doing so once each day.
Amy Norris, Duluth Parks and Recreation
http://www.duluthmn.gov/parks/lakewalk.cfm (Duluth Parks and Recreation)