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Duluth’s bigger, better Lakewalk to reopen by Grandma’s Marathon

The popular lakefront path remains closed as overhaul continues.

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A pedestrian on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, walks by the fenced-off construction zone where the often-damaged Lakewalk is being rebuilt in Canal Park. The new, wider boardwalk is completed but the paved path remains to be installed. The city expects that the asphalt path and landscaping will be completed before Grandma's Marathon. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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Duluth has finished reconstructing the boardwalk portion of its popular Lakewalk, but people should not be tempted to use the fenced-off stretch of path running toward Canal Park quite yet, warned Mike LeBeau, construction project manager.

“That section of the Lakewalk remains a construction site that’s closed to the public. We need people to stay off it and stay safe,” he said.

Favorable weather has enabled crews to make quicker progress on the project than anticipated, and LeBeau referred to the work as “probably about 95% done.” But he said grading, landscaping and the installation of a paved asphalt path for wheeled traffic still awaits.

LeBeau said the project is fully on track to meet the goal of reopening before Grandma’s Marathon, June 19.

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Pedestrians walk past a section of Duluth’s Lakewalk a day after it was damaged by a storm on Oct. 10, 2018. (Steve Kuchera / 2018 file / News Tribune)

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The Lakewalk was badly damaged by back-to-back storms that undermined the path, leaving holes in it up to 3 feet deep after an October 2018 battering.
Since then, more than $16 million has been invested in efforts to bolster the shoreline and rebuild a path through Canal Park that would be less susceptible to future damage. A combination of state, federal and local funding have all been brought to bear on this Phase 3 of the restoration project.

To lessen the pounding the Lakewalk receives from storms, LeBeau described the revetment that has been installed, beginning with 10- to 12-ton toe stones, many of them the size of an automobile, that were dug into the lake bottom roughly 30 feet from the water’s edge. These base reinforcements then were backfilled toward shore with what LeBeau described as filter stone and core stone topped by two layers of armor stone.

Finally, an 18-inch-thick concrete wall was installed, with the top lip of that structure sitting about 2 feet above the surface of the newly constructed Lakewalk.

The Lakewalk, too, has been elevated about 3 feet above its original level.

“We know that waves will still break over the top in really big storms. But it’s a matter of protecting the Lakewalk, so the wave energy won’t undermine it again,” LeBeau said.

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The grapple attachment on a material handler holds a rock weighing 6-12 tons as it moves material used to armor the shoreline and protect Duluth's Lakewalk in March of 2020. (Steve Kuchera / News Tribune)

A swale equipped with drainage pipes has been designed to allow water that tops the seawall to flow back into Lake Superior.

In addition to building a more resilient Lakewalk, the city is significantly enlarging it. The original 6-foot width of the boardwalk will grow to 10 feet, and the paved trail will go from 7 to 12 feet wide.

LeBeau explained that the city enlarged the Lakewalk in recognition of its current popularity and in anticipation that the volume of users it accommodates will continue to grow.

“The traffic congestion in some of these spots is pretty intense at times, with bikers, joggers, walkers, people with strollers and skaters. We needed more bandwidth,” he said. “It’s sort of Duluth’s version of a public commons, but it’s just linear.”

LeBeau said the city hopes to maintain that width for the duration of the Lakewalk, but he acknowledged that will be a challenge at points where the path is pinched, including areas it shares with a neighboring rail line.

In Phase 4 of the project, which LeBeau expects to begin this summer, federal disaster funds will be used to shore up other storm-damaged portions of the waterfront and trail, from Leif Erickson Park to Brighton Beach.

Ultimately, the work will necessitate replacing the paved trail in its entirety.

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“That trail is pretty old and beat-up in places, and we will make it even worse by doing some of this construction on the shoreline, hauling heavy equipment and stone,” LeBeau said.

“The trail won’t hold up to that kind of traffic. So, it’s a dance to get that done and accommodate the high demand for access to both the shore and the trail,” he said.

As a result, Lakewalk users can expect a number of temporary detours over the next couple of years.

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With a section of the Lakewalk still unusable after a storm on Oct. 27, 2017, visitors to Canal Park use the bikeway for walking on May 31, 2018. (Bob King / 2018 file / News Tribune)

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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