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Deal would make Lakewalk more accessible, enable residents to fight erosion

A proposed agreement could achieve multiple goals.

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A bicyclist peddles up a section of the Lakewalk near Water Street and South 23rd Avenue East on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The city is considering an easement swap which would allow it to reroute this section of trail, which does not comply with the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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The Duluth City Council could pass an ordinance Monday night to bring the Lakewalk into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

At present, the Lakewalk takes a sharp turn above the intersection of Water Street and South 23rd Avenue East, climbing a slope to join a section of trail that runs just below Interstate 35. The current route doesn't meet ADA standards. But an ordinance to be considered Monday could change all that.

The proposed ordinance would grant the residents of an upscale waterfront housing development called the Ledges on Lake Superior access across city-owned land, providing a homeowners' association with a perpetual easement, so that mutually acceptable erosion control measures can be implemented and maintained.

The homeowners' association would bear the cost of those shore-side improvements.

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Orange fencing marking where Lake Superior claimed a section of the Lakewalk behind the Ledges lays toppled over Sunday, June 6, 2021. A proposed easement swap would give residents of the Ledges access to the city-owned shoreline for erosion-control measures. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

In return for the waterfront access, the association would grant the city a permanent easement across a triangle-shaped piece of property above Water Street and east of South 23rd Avenue East. That easement would enable the city to soften the current curve in the Lakewalk and ease the path's grade. Those improvements would bring that section of Lakewalk into compliance.

"This particular trail easement may not seem like a big deal. But it's actually a huge deal for the Lakewalk," said 2nd District Duluth City Councilor Joel Sipress.

He noted that the current configuration of the section of Lakewalk in question is not only problematic for disabled people but is also dangerous for all users because of the way it enters the intersection.

"There's been a desire for many years to get this addressed and get this fixed," Sipress said, expressing his appreciation for the work that has gone into hammering out an agreement.

"The easement to correct the Lakewalk S-curve safety concerns and meet ADA compliance has been well over 10 years in the making, and it is fantastic to achieve this initial stage," wrote Jim Topie, president of Friends of the Lakewalk, in a letter to the City Council.

In fall 2020, the council decided not to use emergency relief funding to reconstruct a storm-damaged bluestone public footpath in front of the Ledges because of erosion problems in the area, redirecting the resources to other recovery efforts.

RELATED: Duluth cancels plans for Lakewalk extension Extensive erosion and high estimated costs prompted the Duluth City Council to shelve plans and redirect funding to other projects.
"This particular measure addresses the associated issues that came to light when we made that announcement," said Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of parks, properties and public libraries at a recent council meeting.

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"We are providing an easement to the Ledges homeowners' association that gives them the right to construct erosion-control measures on the shoreline formerly occupied by our trail. And in exchange, they're giving us an easement that will enable us to construct an ADA-accessible new replacement section for the Lakewalk," he said.

Filby Williams said the city intends to permit and maintain continued public access to the shore in front of the Ledges even after the current damaged path is removed.

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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