A new river 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.

With your advocacy help, 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 will be home to the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area headquarters and offer year-round river-oriented experiences focused on the land, water and culture of the river, enhancing public connections to this incredible natural resource that we need now more than ever.

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.

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

Strengthening public access

This Legislative session, the City of St. Paul and the Great River Passage Conservancy are advocating for the River Learning Center to be included in the 2020 bonding bill. The $3 million request would fund 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. This specific site has infrastructure remaining from a long-abandoned private development project that could support a new building without damaging the floodplain.

We're excited about the River Learning Center's potential to strengthen public access to the river. A base for the National Park Service and environmental learning right in the heart of St. Paul will serve as a destination for neighbors, residents from across the region, and visitors. It would provide opportunities to engage people who have historically been excluded from the outdoor recreation and conservation movements.

Now, more than ever, we are seeing the impact of parks on well-being and mental health. Through the River Learning Center, we can help create the next generation of river lovers and environmental stewards. 

You can help

Take action now! Send a message to your legislators to show your support for the River Learning Center.

FMR River Guardians will be the first to know about additional opportunities to help advance this legislation this session, as well as local development issues. If you're not a River Guardian already, we encourage you to sign up today.

River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, where we discuss important legislative and metro river corridor issues.

More river land use and development updates