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From Eden Prairie to Jordan

News analysis
Eden Prairie News, July 22, 2004

From Eden Prairie to Jordan
Three discover the southwest suburbs by trail
By Jeff Strate

“Dr. Livingston I presume,” shouted Dorian Grilley with a chuckle, as he muscled his road bike toward me through a cloud of mosquitoes on a trail of mud, rock and pools of water. Behind him, with sprockets clogged in mud and ripped weeds, Dave Simpkins had dismounted his bike and was shaking it over his head in a fit of stagy, “Man-verses-Jungle” bravura ala Hulk Hogan. We were just three miles out of Shakopee.

As President of the Parks and Trail Council of Minnesota, one of the State’s premier conservation organizations, Grilley rides a bike about 4,000 miles a year. As publisher of Minnesota Bike Trails and Rides, Simpkins is also no slouch on a Schwinn. I had happily accepted an invitation to join them for the Eden Prairie to Jordan link of a ride which for them had begun in Baker Regional Park. Their route was part of the Council’s 50th Anniversary Tour, a mid-June through August bicycling relay which is visiting 50 parks in 50 days.

By the time they reached me at Eden Prairie’s Birch Island Woods, they had already traveled 42 miles. They had passed through Wayzata, Plymouth, Golden Valley and Minneapolis to join the Southwest Regional LRT Trail; an old railroad right-of-way owned by Hennepin County as a transit corridor and run by Three Rivers Park District for recreational and commuter bicycling

We took some pictures on the trail, then took a 20-minute loop tour through Birch Island Woods Conservation area, by ripening raspberries at the Picha Heritage Farm and past 4 acres of the woods that could be sold for development if $800,000 isn’t raised by the end of September.

  Jeff Strate, Friends of Birch Island Woods; Dorian Grilley, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota and Dave Simpkins, publisher, Minnesota Trails and Bike Rides

Already the pair was impressed; Grilley by the regional trail’s commuting potential and the significance of the Birch Island district in its urban milieu and Simpkins by the greeness of the trail through older, industrialized areas.

We headed southwest past residential neighborhoods and wetlands jabbering about the future of light rail transit. “When it comes, it will go in east of here,” I shouted as we passed a mom with her kids. “Where?” asked Grilley. “South from Hopkins through a string of business and office districts out to our shopping mall and transit center,” I replied as a Lance Armstrong protoge whizzed by. “Where it can really spark some good.”

At Eden Prairie Road, I mentioned that my town’s stretch of the trail passed by two city parks and a pair of conservation areas and that an 1887 brick home reinvented as a coffee house was just a few hundred yards away. Being gorp and Gatorade guys, Grilley and Simpkins passed on my offer of iced lattes. We continued west through the high-toned, golf and residential redoubt of Bearpath on to the self-anointed “Beerpath,” a nice, cluster of homes tucked into the woods between the trail and Lake Riley.

Chanhassen’s portion of the trail cuts through wooded bluff and ravine country , much of which is being eyed by developers. For a few more years, however, this landscape will retain its sate park-like appeal. Grilley and Simpkins, with hundreds of miles logged through the scenic splendors of the North Shore, the St. Croix Valley and Southeastern Minnesota, were unexpectedly delighted by our trail’s elevated vistas of the Minnesota Valley and Shakopee with its churches and grain elevators.

West of Bluff Creek Road we lingered to gaze out over Seminary Fen. Last summer, I had walked onto the spongy, 500-acre tract with a Sierra Club group and some naturalists. The fen is one of the nation’s rarest ecosystems, a cold, alkaline wetland with unusual plants and small swamp critters. I told my new friends of the refrigerator-cool temperatures of fen plants, of a trout stream and of a long-gone spa that had plopped clients into tubs of the area’s mineral-rich muds. I’ve wondered how many secrets science could unlock from the fen or if the area could anchor a complex of eco-friendly spas and hotels which could mesh well with other southwest metro tourist draws. We’ve already got Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, Oak Ridge Conference Center, Murphy’s Landing, ValleyFair, Canterbury Park, the casinos, the regional and state trails and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

But a proposed MnDOT re-alignment of Highway 41 and future development could destroy the fen. Fen champions like City of Chanhassen’s Lori Haak, the DNR, the Friends of the Minnesota Valley and State Representative Joe Hoppe, after raising enough public moneys to save the fen, were stopped by an unexpected hurdle: a revised, much steeper asking price for the land. They’re running out of time and need something that has yet to emerge from home towners, strong, organized, grassroots support.

The Bluff Creek Inn, a charming bed and breakfast hotel near the fen, caught Dave Simpkins’ eye. He jumped off his bike and started snapping digital photos of the 1860 farmstead for his trail guide. Simpkins, who also publishes the Saulk Center Herald; knows his “photo ops.”

We followed Highway 101 over the Minnesota River; re-hydrated with Gatorade at a gas station and then attempted to navigate around a sewer construction project to a trail which serpentines through beautiful stands of tall cottonwoods on its way to Shakopee’s Memorial Park. Like bike-mounted Keystone Cops, we threaded in and out of neat shop-lined streets looking for a trailhead until being advised at Shakopee Valley RV Park that we’d best wait until mid-September for the reopening of the trail.

We back tracked through town to the Minnesota Valley State Trail, a 3.5-mile link to Chaska. This bikeway boasts its own cottonwood sanctuaries, the ruins of the Strunk/Nyssen Brewery (1857) and panoramic vistas of the river and its bottomlands.

The best of a number of “Kodak Moments” was a field and bayou flecked with more than 40 Snowy Egrets and their Great Blue Heron chaperones. We would have savored the moment longer, but swarms of mosquitoes forced us to the hardscrabble path that twisted to Highway 41, a stretch which will most likely be improved when and if a new Highway 41 bridge is installed over the Minnesota River.

The lure of further adventures began dissipating on the highway’s long ascent to U.S. Highway 169. The gallant, totally fit, Dorian Grilley offered to push on to Jordan by himself and return with his car giving Simpkins and I a chance to soak up more gas station Gatorade and check out Louisville Swamp, a unit of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

In mid-June, I had joined Refuge Manager Rick Schultz and Louisville Swamp defenders Deborah Loon Osgood, Lois Norrgard and others for a sound test in a part of the refuge not far from the proposed site of an amphitheater that has since been rejected by Scott County. The test required volunteers like myself to write down our reactions to concert level playings of a recording by Metallica, the kind of heavy metal band that would perform in the venue. I was stationed in a prairie, 900 feet away from a bank of giant speakers, others were posted further out - one of them on the other side of the river near Carver. As explosively loud drums and guitars began blasting from the speakers, I began laughing. The absurdity of even thinking of forcing such music, any music, into a place with the balanced resonances of an African savanna and a Louisiana bayou seemed naive, myopic, dunder-headed and Pythonesque. And then anger swelled up inside me. I noted the anger and wrote for the official record that I would have called the cops to shut the concert down. I wondered why so many thousands of Minnesotans have had to fight so hard and so long to defend Minnesota’s defining resources: a Lake Superior shoreline, a Birch Island Woods, a fen, a national wildlife refuge.

To this site, I returned with Dave Simpkins, a fellow I had known, excepting a few phone calls, for a little more than three hours. Rather than entering the refuge, we waited - physically whipped - for Dorian Grilley and his car on a sun-blasted but bug bite-free road. The regional and state trails of the southwestern suburbs had provided us with a set of life references and delights that car-bound people deny themselves. Beyond the asphalt, we witnessed a Minnesota Valley re-enactment of a George Seurat painting: millions of points of colors, breeze-dancing on an organic canvass of wildflowers, tall grasses and clusters of bushes. Maybe I heard a meadow lark, or maybe I just wanted to hear one.

Jeff Strate lives in Eden Prairie and is a leader of Friends of Birch Island Woods.


WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For more information on the Southwest Regional Trail, Minnesota Bike Trails and the Park, Trail Council of Minnesota and its 50 Parks in 50 Days Bike Tour visit www.BirchIslandwoods.org. For more information on Seminary Fen and the Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge call Friends of the Minnesota Valley at 952- 858-0706 or visit them on the Web at www.friendsofmnvalley.org

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