It was a picture-perfect day to celebrate the grand reopening of the popular Canal Park segment of Duluth's Lakewalk.
Unfortunately, the construction fences won't come down until some finishing touches are completed over the next few days. But officials said they'll easily meet their stated goal of opening the boardwalk ahead of Grandma's Marathon on June 19.
"We will formally reopen this Lakewalk in the next week, and a week from now it is going to be packed," Mayor Emily Larson said at a Saturday ceremony held under scorching skies on a newly constructed plaza area near the shipping canal.
"It's going to be packed with kids, with adults, with families, with people discovering Duluth for the first time, with people who have lived here for generations," the mayor said. "And that is the beauty of the experience of the Lakewalk."
Decimated by a series of storms that seemed to occur like clockwork every six months in 2017 and 2018, the new trail is built to withstand the wrath of Lake Superior.
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 series of measures that included placing automobile-sized boulders along the lake bottom.
"When the Lakewalk was initially built, there was no drainage, there was no engineering that went into it," Larson said. "And that's not a slam. It was a treasure that was developed on a garbage pile, so let's thank the visionary leaders who did that. But what we have been able to do is make sure that we've done certain kinds of engineering to be more climate-adaptive."
The trail, which has been elevated about 3 feet above its original location, also includes an 18-inch-thick concrete wall that protects the boardwalk.
Jim Topie, president of the Friends of the Lakewalk citizens' group, got an up-close look for the first time. He was impressed that the final design incorporated many community ideas, and he said the rebuilt section will serve as a "world-class experience for tourists."
He made special note of the rock-top surface that has been placed along the lakeshore, providing smooth access to the water from the trail and adjacent hotels.
"It's amazing," Tobie said of the rock surface. "It's almost as flat as a pancake."
Larson and other dignitaries — including City Council President Renee Van Nett, state Sen. Jen McEwen and state Rep. Liz Olson — credited the collaboration and funding from local, state and federal sources to make the project a reality, while also touting the economic benefits of reopening Duluth's "free front door" as a new tourism season kicks off without pandemic restrictions.
Matt Baumgartner, president of the Canal Park Business Association, welcomed the new and improved Lakewalk, noting area shops and restaurants had endured flooding issues associated with the series of storms. He said the reopening provides much-needed relief after a difficult few years that also included pandemic shutdowns and the impacts of Lake Avenue and Superior Street construction.
"We're reopening this amazing asset next to our most amazing asset," Baumgartner said. "Once again, we have a place to exercise, a place to learn, a place to connect spiritually. Once again we have that place where community and congregation intersect with commerce."