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Piecing together the Lakewalk puzzle

Jana Peterson Budgeteer News On Wednesday afternoon, Barry Keyes was walking her eight-pound Chitzu "Sassy" along the latest addition to the Lakewalk, a gravel and dirt path that runs along the lake between 23rd and 25th Avenues East in Duluth. "...

photo Alison Clarke and Ledges trail
Alison Clarke stands on the newest portion of the Lakewalk, a 1,100-foot path running in front of the Ledges development that was built with lots of volunteer labor. For years, Clarke has been a citizen "watchdog," keeping an eye on Lakewalk plans and negotiations. Photo by Jana Peterson/Budgeteer News.

Jana Peterson

Budgeteer News

On Wednesday afternoon, Barry Keyes was walking her eight-pound Chitzu "Sassy" along the latest addition to the Lakewalk, a gravel and dirt path that runs along the lake between 23rd and 25th Avenues East in Duluth.

"I'm walking my illegal dog," she said in a mischievous tone, referring to the fact that there is a proposal to ban dogs and bicycles from the eight-foot wide gravel path that runs in front of the Ledges development. "I understand the bike rule -- but I don't understand 'no dogs.' They're part of the family."

Although the Duluth City Council tabled a resolution that would have designated that portion of the Lakewalk as city parkland -- with it the proposed bans on dogs and bicycles -- councilors will resume discussion of the Lakewalk at a Committee of the Whole meeting July 27.

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Alison Clarke, a resident of Congdon and a leading citizen advocate for the Lakewalk for nearly a decade, said the building of the new path through the cooperative efforts of the city and nearly 300 volunteers was an "exciting and very satisfying" moment.

It was also bittersweet for the Congdon resident, because she had hoped for something that looked more like the traditional Lakewalk: A 10-foot asphalt trail with 2-foot shoulders on either side.

However, there wasn't enough space or funding to accomplish that. There is also an existing paved path built by the Minnesota Department of Transportation running behind the development, so bicyclists and roller bladers can bypass the gravel path to continue eastward.

It's been an exciting summer for the Lakewalk. While the Ledges stretch of the Lakewalk may be the most recent addition to Duluth's (mostly) lakeside walking path, it's not the only portion under construction. In fact, the Lakewalk seems to be going through a growth spurt.

Up, up and away

In the city's latest comprehensive plan, the Lakewalk is defined as a "transportation and recreation trail following the Lake Superior shoreline from Morse Street to 26th Avenue East." That should probably read 20th Avenue East instead, because the Lakewalk essentially goes on a hiatus at that point, although users can travel down Water Street for three blocks behind the Beacon Pointe condominiums to the new Ledges trail.

At 26th Avenue East, the Lakewalk resumes its usual form of a 10-foot asphalt path with shoulders on either side, winding inland through wooded areas and over Tischer Creek as far as 36th Avenue East.

Construction on a continuation of the Lakewalk from 36th Avenue East to 47th Avenue East (inland, along the St. Louis County railroad line right of way) is under way this summer, with completion expected this fall. Interested observers can get an update on the construction progress every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. at the 36th Avenue trailhead.

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Cari Pedersen, chief engineer of transportation for Duluth, said the city is currently in the design phase for the next phase of the Lakewalk, which will run from 47th to 60th Avenue East.

Construction on that phase could start late this fall or early spring, with expected completion by late summer or early fall of 2010. Plans for the final eastward portion -- which would actually cross Highway 61 and take the Lakewalk into Brighton Beach -- are still on the drawing board. City Architect Terry Groshong said that portion of the Lakewalk is challenging for two reasons: The Lester River and Highway 61.

The city is also doing an alignment and easement study to determine if it is feasible to expand the Lakewalk to the west,

ultimately connecting it with the already-existing Munger Trail.

Groshong said he's finding that many concerns prior to building are not coming to fruition.

"Once the trail is in, most of the major concerns about people lingering, vandalism, muggings and strangers just don't materialize," he said. "... People who use the trails are generally mindful of its neighbors and very respectful."

While each expansion creates more connectivity for pedestrians, bikers and roller bladers, there's another good point about the current project between 36th and 47th Avenues East: It runs right past Ordean school.

"I think the school district is going to change its biking policy so kids can bike to school on the trail and avoid (vehicle) traffic," Pedersen said.

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All of the Lakewalk expansions eastward to Brighton Beach are being paid for through federal stimulus dollars with matching local money.

"We have $500,000 in federal funding [for the Lakewalk expansion to the east], but we have to provide a local match," Pedersen said, adding that the local match is planned for in the city's capital budget. "What we don't have money for is Beacon Pointe."

Growing pains

While the eastward expansion of the Lakewalk appears to be running very smoothly, it's the midsection that's been an issue, primarily the five-block stretch between the established Lakewalk to the west (from 20th Avenue East through Canal Park) and the rapidly growing stretch to the east (from 26th Avenue East up to the Lester River).

The problem is three-pronged, although the Ledges portion that runs from 23rd Avenue East to 25th Avenue East would appear to have been resolved. That leaves the Beacon Pointe condominiums and resort and the Cynthia and Paul Hayden property, four lots which includes about 150 feet of shoreline for which there are no easement agreements. Although city officials had some very preliminary discussions with the Haydens two years ago, Groshong said, there haven't been any serious negotiations to date.

On the other hand, he is hoping to meet with some Beacon Pointe residents next week.

The city has an easement running between the Beacon Pointe development and the shoreline which remains undeveloped. There are challenges to putting the Lakewalk through there, at least the 14-foot version, because at its westernmost point, such a path on existing land would practically cut through the edge of the building.

That's not an appealing prospect for the people who live there, say condo owners Arthur and Lynda Anselmo, pointing out that the easement essentially runs through their back yard. (Lynda confirmed that when they purchased the condo, she understood that the easement ran through the rocky shoreline 30 to 40 feet below their property level.)

"This is not a Lakewalk," said Arthur, pointing to the narrow strip of grass between the dropoff to the lake and the corner of the westernmost condo. "This is a lake path. The Lakewalk is back there [on Water Street] ..."

Anselmo noted that he believes building a traditional-style Lakewalk between the condominiums and Lake Superior would either be an extremely expensive prospect or something that might end in a legal battle. During the short interview, he said repeatedly that no decisions should be made without consulting the residents of Beacon Pointe.

"Bottom line, there is an easement," he said. "And the city's going to do something there. But you're not going to do it without our [Beacon Pointe owners] input and cooperation."

It seems the retired judge is going to get his wish when the residents meet with Groshong and Clarke Wednesday.

"There are things that could be done to bridge some of the issues with Beacon Pointe," said Groshong, stressing the word bridge. "We may be able to come in with some pier footings, creating an elevated walkway, possibly at a slightly different level," he trails off. ... We've considered five options in the past, now we're looking at a sixth [option]."

Finding a solution that's consistent with the rest of the trail is important, the city architect noted. And that doesn't necessarily mean a paved trail suitable for wheeled traffic, other than strollers.

"There are some limitations to wheeled traffic in other areas of the Lakewalk," he said. "Maybe we keep wheeled traffic to the north and pedestrians to the south."

Clarke also said a walking path might work.

Groshong is hopeful that the city will be able to extend the Lakewalk through its troubled midsection, he said, and convinced that the way to move forward is to acknowledge past discussions and plans, but then to move ahead to make new plans that fit today's reality.

As for the dog question, he's on Keyes' side.

"I can't see having a pet on a leash through most parts of the Lakewalk, then banning it on a four-block stretch," he said. "But I guess that's not really the purview of the city architect."

Related Topics: LAKEWALKTRAILS
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