A new environmental learning center at Watergate Marina?

by Colleen O'Connor Toberman

A conceptual drawing of the River Learning Center and National Park Service Headquarters. Buildings would be designed to minimize the impact on the site.

If all goes well at the State Capitol this spring, the City of St. Paul could begin designing a new River Learning Center at Crosby Farm Regional Park later this year.

Part of the city’s 2013 Great River Passage Master Plan, the River Learning Center concept includes a river-focused environmental center that could combine a National Park Service Headquarters and Visitor Center with year-round environmental learning and outdoor recreation experiences, scientific research, a community café and boat access.

Map showing potential new center at Crosby Park just downstream from Hidden Falls.

The center, indicated by the dashed square, would be between two regional parks and across the river from Fort Snelling State Park.

Located at Watergate Marina, the site is situated between two beloved riverfront parks, Hidden Falls Regional Park to the north and Crosby Farm Regional Park to the south. Together, these parks feature more than four miles of river shoreline, two lakes and several distinct habitat zones including floodplain forest, wetlands, towering sandstone bluffs, ravines and waterfalls.

This Legislative session, St. Paul is advocating for the River Learning Center to be included in the 2020 bonding bill. The $3 million request would fund community engagement, design, site evaluation, and site preparation. Robust community engagement and careful design will ensure that the River Learning Center meets visitors' needs while minimizing the project's environmental impact.

The Great River Passage Conservancy is also providing project leadership, with FMR, the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection, Wilderness Inquiry and Capitol Region Watershed District as supporting organizations.

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