Last fall, I really enjoyed reading the series of great posts from Chris Chavie at MN Bike Trail Navigator about the progress being made on the construction of the Mississippi River Regional Trail in South Saint Paul. Seeing as how it is now nearly a full year later, I figured construction must be just about wrapped up on these trails, so I went out to snap some photos and experience the new trail. This trail is a pretty big deal, and will be an important part of the regional trail network once the remaining segments of the trail are constructed (scheduled through 2015 according to the Dakota County website).
I was a bit surprised to discover that construction is not yet complete, and even more surprised to discover that some portions will need to be fully reconstructed (as you will see in the following photos). The trail is separated into two segments, Central & Pine Bend Bluffs. Chris has already done a pretty great job detailing the alignment of the trail, so I won’t try to duplicate that. I’ll mostly just post photos as a bit of a photo tour with a few bits of commentary.
Pine Bend Bluffs Segment
Generally, this section of trail was quite lovely. Smooth pavement and gentle curves and hills. The designers did a lovely job fitting the alignment in what is clearly rough terrain and right-of-way limitations. There are a number of locations where there are steep slopes, wetlands, and drainage ravines and I generally thought the trail was excellent.
The Pine Bend Bluffs Segment ends abruptly just south of 117th Street. A future trail is planned to continue to the south, but for the time being, the trail starts here:
Heading north, the trail is sandwiched between two fences. This is never a good feeling for a cyclist, though I trust there was no other option through here.
The striping was a bit inconsistent throughout the corridor. Some portions were striped with a centerline, others were not. Generally, curves were marked while straight segments were not marked, though this was not always the case. Some curves were unmarked while some straight segments were marked.
As much as I dislike having a trail sandwiched between two fences, I was a little surprised that there was no railing along the bluff side of the trail in a few places. The bluff can be quite steep and not very far away from the trail.
In Chris’ latest post, he mentioned that some portion of the Pine Bend Bluffs segment was still unpaved, and I can confirm that this is still the situation, though it is quite unclear why this section was not paved with the rest of the trail.
Then I happened upon something interesting, a full failure of a sheet piling retaining wall which can be seen in the distance of this next photo.
At this location, the trail must cross a bit of a drainage ravine. A sheet piling retaining wall design was used to allow the trail to cross the ravine. As the following photos show, this wall has completely failed, the trail has experienced extreme settling.
Continuing north, the trail is once again quite lovely.
There is a scenic overlook, which does indeed provide excellent scenery.
Moving along, I encountered another short trail segment where the trail passes through a bit of a wetland or pond area. Again, the trail has experienced some pretty substantial settling in this area (6″-8″), though the sheet piling retaining walls have not failed as spectacularly as the previous location.
There are at least two locations along this trail segment where private unpaved driveways cross the trail. In both locations, the trail is stop controlled and the driveways are given priority movement over the trail. Of course, no cyclist or pedestrian will ever stop.
The north end of the trail connects to the existing trail parallel to Courthouse Boulevard.
Overall the Pine Bend Bluffs Segment of the MRRT is a wonderful trail. I am curious to see how the sheet piling retaining walls have held up this past weekend with the torrential rains. HOMEWORK: someone go take some new photos and see if they look any different.
The Central Segment was also quite lovely, and the engineers and designers deserve some credit for constructing a trail through this rough terrain. Again, there is one short segment that remains unpaved (not pictured).
Again, much of the trail is supported by a sheet piling retaining wall, however in this case, the tops of the piles have been capped with concrete.
This railroad bridge received quite a lot of attention.
Anyway, that’s all the photos I have for now. The rest of the Central segment is typical sidepaths – critical for connectivity but not particularly exciting or photogenic.
Has anybody been out to ride the trail yet? What do you think?