Our View: ‘Skyline was king’

On 125th anniversary, don't take parkway for granted Our hilltop ribbon of asphalt and spectacular views, Skyline Parkway, has been a treasured jewel in Duluth for so long, for 125 years now, that it has become easy to take for granted.Or worse."...

Frank Nicoletti leans back in a chair to count hawks in May 1997 from a site on Skyline Parkway near Enger Tower that overlooks western Duluth. (1997 file / News Tribune)

On 125th anniversary, don’t take parkway for granted

Our hilltop ribbon of asphalt and spectacular views, Skyline Parkway, has been a treasured jewel in Duluth for so long, for 125 years now, that it has become easy to take for granted.
Or worse.
“A lot of people also treat it as an area where it’s easy to just dump their garbage and throw stuff over the cliffs,” city of Duluth Volunteer Coordinator Cheryl Skafte said this week in an interview with the News Tribune Opinion page. “We’ve pulled everything from refrigerators and appliances and TVs and deer carcasses from there. The stuff that you see. Just people leaving piles of household garbage and dumping yard waste, including invasive species (that sometimes take root). It’s sad.”
So sad that the city and the Duluth Preservation Alliance have organized a spring cleaning of Skyline Parkway this Saturday. Anyone interested in helping - and here’s hoping hundreds of us heed the call - are asked to meet at 9 a.m. at Chester Park to be assigned stretches of Skyline to spruce up. Just 45 minutes or so of picking up trash is all volunteers are being asked to do. And when they’re done they can reassemble at Chester Park for donated thank-you doughnuts.
“Even if we don’t get the Skyline perfectly clean, you know what? Next week we’re going to need to clean it again. This isn’t a one-and-done. I think that’s part of the message,” Skafte said. “I think the more we can get people out there to see it, to drive it, and for people to see that people care about Skyline, maybe that’ll deter someone from throwing their pop can or their litter.
“One thing we all can agree on is that Skyline deserves to be cared for and not littered on and abused,” she said.
Another thing we can all agree on is that Skyline deserves to be celebrated. A 125th anniversary party is planned for Sunday, July 31, also at Chester Park, from 1-3 p.m. There will be free cake and ice cream, a barbershop chorus and a six-piece Dixieland jazz band. City Council President Zack Filipovich will read a proclamation from the mayor. And former City Councilor Sharla Gardner will share details of Duluth’s
vegetation-management plan for the parkway, which was approved by the council last August to reopen old vistas and to keep clear Skyline’s many wonderful overlooks, among other goals. Under the plan, Skyline is a park, not a roadway.
In addition, the Preservation Alliance’s Paul Eckhardt will portray Duluth’s first parks director, William Rogers, at the party. It was Rogers who first envisioned Skyline Parkway and Duluth’s parks system. Rogers was responsible for Skyline’s first stretch, from Chester Park to Lincoln Park, which opened in 1891.
“You have to give William Rogers the first credit,” Preservation Alliance board member and events coordinator Doug Stevens told the Opinion page. “He created the whole parks system for Duluth and he was the first parks board commissioner, and he did that in 1884. He was from Ohio. He was a lawyer and a minister, and he was the secretary for the 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes. So he convinced Rutherford B. Hayes to invest in Duluth, too, and the two of them invested in the Incline (Railway) at the same time, and that opened after Skyline on Dec. 2, 1891.”
After Rogers died in 1892, Duluth’s parks board named the hilltop parkway in his honor, “Rogers Boulevard.” Most people just called it “the boulevard,” however, so in 1929 the News Tribune led a contest for a new name. Six different people suggested Skyline Parkway and won $5 each (about $70 today).
Mayor Samuel Snively took office in 1921 and in 16 years was responsible for building 22 of Skyline’s 28 miles. “He was instrumental in finishing Rogers’ work,” Stevens said. “(Skyline Parkway) was Duluth’s really first tourist attraction. Everything below the hill was so industrial. Everything in Canal Park was so industrial. There was no boardwalk along the lake then. … And there was no I-35. So Skyline was the only roadway that could take you from one end of the town to the other.
“It wasn’t until I-35 and Canal Park and the (Lakewalk) came into being that Skyline started to lose its favor,” Stevens said. “Skyline was king. That’s what brought tourists here.”
The parkway is enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to the many hiking and biking trails built below it and above it in recent years, Stevens said.
“It’s being rediscovered,” he said.
And in need of constant community cleanup, including tomorrow morning. And celebration, including at the end of this month. Skyline Parkway remains a treasured jewel. It deserves to be treated that way.

Spruce up, celebrate
Cleanup Saturday: Meet at 9 a.m. at Chester Park
Party July 31: Free cake and more from 1-3 p.m. at Chester Park

New Skyline Parkway signs were unveiled in September 2011. (2011 file / News Tribune)

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