Another outing in the chapter’s Transit to Green Space project
On a blustery spring Saturday 13 walkers showed up at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul for this circle tour of 5-6 miles. The Depot was chosen as the meeting point because of its location across from the last station on the Green Line light rail; as well as because many bus routes come here or pass nearby. And besides, it’s a convenient place to make a pit stop before starting a walk. The three parks we visited are Swede Hollow Park, Mounds Park and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. And the “more” of the title was the historic Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood which cuts across the bluff between Swede Hollow and Mounds Park.
What we did
From the Depot our route took us past the St. Paul Farmers’ Market, for a peek into the new Saints Stadium, then east along Prince Street with a jog north on Willius to 4th street then east again to Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, a little under a mile. From the sanctuary – which we took in at the end of our circular walk – we moved from the urban unpleasantness of railroad tracks and freeway underpass into a ravine now filled with trees, greenery and a little stream, Phalen Creek. This is Swede Hollow where successive waves of immigrants once had small homes with out-houses conveniently located hanging over the creek.
Shortly before the old Hamm’s brewery we climbed a long staircase to an upper park where we were met by Karin duPaul, a local activist who filled us in on more of the area history. Not just Swedes, but Poles, Italians and then Mexicans passed through the Hollow on their way to a better life, many of them moving just above to Payne Avenue. Homes and trash in the Hollow were increasingly considered a health hazard, and the last ones were finally burned in 1956. The ravine was cleaned up and the park created thanks to efforts of local neighbors in the 1970’s.
The Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood which Karin led us through is marked by the presence of the Hamm family, of brewery fame. Karin pointed out beautiful, old houses across from the upper park that were lived in by Hamm offspring, and a wildflower garden in the woods on the site of a Hamm family mansion.
After a welcome warm-up stop at the new east side Mississippi Market on 7th street, we made our way along Maple Street with Karin, stopping briefly to look at more historic houses, many built by Hamm relatives. Walking into a chilly breeze and shivering, we didn’t really do the houses justice; that will have to happen next time. We crossed the freeway along Maple on a pedestrian bridge, then past an imposing stone mansion, and on to Mounds Park.
At Mounds Park we touched on another era in local history – native American – in the form of woodland Indian burial mounds. Then, with great views of the Mississippi and downtown St. Paul all the way, we walked on down the bluff to Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, visible below. Here our circle tour ended with a walk at the base of sand stone cliffs and through restored prairie, an area once used by native people, then as a railroad yard, and now restored as a wild park within spitting distance of the heart of the city.
Many of us warmed up at Black Dog Café at the southeast corner of the Farmers Market. A good end to a great urban walk.
How to plan this trip:
- It’s simple, use Google maps and transit, and look for transit to Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, a good starting point. (I would recommend Metrotransit.org, but they currently don’t include the Sanctuary in their “destination” category, while Google does.).
- Dress warmly enough! (or don’t do the walk on a chilly, windy day).