Trail, Mississippi River

Fish Hatchery Trail: a Final Update

Several years ago, I came across the Fish Hatchery Trail, a mostly wooded regional trail that connects downtown Saint Paul to SE Twin Cities, such as Maplewood, Woodbury, Newport, Hastings, etc. It’s part of the Mississippi River Trail system, which goes from the river’s headwaters all the way to Wabasha and beyond. I’ve seen deer, foxes, turtles, snakes, dragonflies, owls, bald eagles and more, all within a few short miles of downtown St Paul!

As I wrote about in a May 2018 update, the trail remained closed during the rest of 2018 and the first half of 2019. As of July 1, 2019, the trail IS OPEN!!

What happened since May 2018? Well, seemingly very little, but a LOT of work was being done behind-the-scenes. MnDOT was performing numerous soil borings and structural engineering tests. They determined the move-ability and erodibility of the soils and determined a short-term (5-8 year) solution. Further, they secured federal funding to cover 80% of the costs needed for a long-term solution. According to a February 2019 Pioneer Press article, “St. Paul will receive $2.2 million to stabilize, reconstruct and reopen the Fish Hatchery Trail into downtown St. Paul, a popular 1.4-mile bike trail along U.S. 61 that was closed in 2016 due to erosion. Overall cost: $2.77 million.”

This is welcoming news for anyone living or working downtown or SE of downtown Saint Paul!  It’s funny though; after 2 full years of biking the Fish Hatchery Trail detour, biking along Upper Afton Road, crossing Highway 61 at Burns Ave and biking through Mounds Park to get to/from work, I got used to it. I got used to the friendly waves from neighbors waiting for the school bus with their kids, and the happy (or growling) dogs being walked, or from people gardening in their yards (and yes, I’d tell them that I love their gardens) to young kids waving at me as they bike with training wheels on the sidewalk. It was a great way to be introduced to the East Side as a resident, as a community member.

Conversely, biking on the Fish Hatchery Trail was both exciting and nerve-racking. Yes, it was great to finally be off the road and not have to cross Burns Ave, but when biking parallel to Highway 61, it’s NOISY! The trains are too, as are the auto drivers and semis that drive on Warner Road. But I got used to that really quickly, especially when I could bike faster  on the trail than auto drivers could drive on Highway 61 north (near Warner Road) during morning rush hour.

And the wildlife! As winding and uneven as the trail is, the beauty of the trail and surrounding makes the bumpy commute worth it.

City and state leaders spoke at a District 1 Community Council land use meeting to provide updates on the trail conditions.  The meeting was taped and is available for viewing. While I recorded the meeting, I was more fixated on trying to get sound and video quality better that I admittedly was only half-listening to the presentation. Single-tasking is truly the new multi-tasking. I digress.

I asked trail users what they thought about the open trail. I first reached to my favorite other year-round e-cyclist Jenny. She writes:

“One of the worst things about the detour around the Fish Hatchery Trail closure is that I’ve had to cross eight lanes of high-speed motor vehicle traffic twice a day (Burns Ave & Hwy 61). Unfortunately, despite repeated requests, there was no bike infrastructure added here to accommodate the “detour.” It’s possibly the most dangerous part of my 11-mile work commute, and I am often harassed or threatened by drivers. Every crossing is difficult and stressful. Now that the trail is open again, I instead get to ride on a peaceful bike path through the woods along a creek. I am happy to avoid crossing that dangerous highway, and to avoid some extra hills and distance. I look forward to more daily dragonflies, birds, wildflowers, and friendly people along the trail.”

Others have similar thoughts. I asked riders on Facebook what their favorite part of being able to use the Fish Hatchery Trail is. Trail users were quick to respond:

From Beth: “My favorite part is not having to cross 61. I’m really loving that!”

From Greg: “[I] rode the trail Thursday to see Big Boy at the [Union] Depot. What a pleasure having the trail open again! Thanks to all involved!”

Richard writes: “My fav part is getting into work about the same time as the express bus. Thanks!”

Andy replied: “I love it because It’s a critical part of my favorite ride along and around the Mississippi from downtown St. Paul to 494 and back. It’s the ‘cool and quiet’ section.”

Paul writes: “Just being able to ride it again, and not wondering how I am going to get home. Thank you for the update!”

Ron’s comment was liked and loved by many: “To ride ALL the parts of the trail. Thank you all.”

What a great final comment Ron!

I’ve been taking photos along my commute to/from work. I live south of Battle Creek Road and traverse 7 miles to my worksite, which is a mile NE of downtown Saint Paul. While I still have to cross Lower Afton Road, which I do at Burlington Road in the AM and Battle Creek Road in the PM, it’s really the only “pressure point” of my commute (once I figured out how to cross Kellogg Blvd east of downtown St Paul).

My commute starts off along the Lower Afton Road. Dan Marshall wrote about Point Douglas Road (and other roads where auto traffic is largely unnecessary) and described a spot along the road near the Battle Creek Park entrance where a car was clearly burned a long time ago, but evidence of the incident remains. Unrelated, an abandoned boat remains in the ditch not far from the spot.

Yes, the trail patch was worth the wait. YES, the trail needs a full replacement, which it will get starting in 2023. Am I glad that we advocated to get the trail open with both short-term and long-term solutions? A resounding YES to that.

Ride on, my friends!

Downtown right after sunset

Our Capital city is beautiful after sunset!

boat in ditch

I’m not in a boat! But I see one abandoned along Point Douglas Road.

Roof of Highway 61 underpass with cracks

We’ve been told that the underpass for bicyclists and pedestrians are safe. I am worried that debris might fall on me and other cyclists, more than I’m worried about the bridge collapsing.

Tree on trail

Tree on trail from a storm.

Tree on trail: gone!

I reported the tree in the morning and it was gone by my evening commute. Thank you Saint Paul staff!

Rusty sign

East side gets….no new signs. Other parts of the Mississippi River Trail has nicely paved trails and great wayfairing signs. We do not. Oh well.


Bike parking!

Bike Parking at the Union Depot! There’s a lot of other bike parking but it’s nice to have one here. Bike repair station nearby too.

Union depot sign for peds/bicyclists

There are signs to help pedestrians and cyclists find their way to their destination.

Colorfully decorated art bus

Do buses make you smile along your commute to work?

Pedestrian in bike lane

Pedestrian in bike lane; I can’t blame pedestrians. Car drivers in a parking lot can be a handful!

View along "Union Depot" trail

I’m now at the same grade as Kellogg and the parking lots along Kellogg.

View along "Union Depot" trail

View along “Union Depot” trail, continued

View along "Union Depot" trail

View along “Union Depot” trail

View of start of "Union Depot" trail

I work at Lafayette Park. Crossing Kellogg is worse than Highway 61 at times! View of start of “Union Depot” trail.

Crossing Warner Road

This intersection at Warner Road and Sibley Street

river, downtown

David and Melissa on trail

My sweetie, David and I enjoyed a ride on the trail on July 4.

View of patch in mirror

I might have a bumpy commute but I’m not in a car!

rider in front of patched trail

My first, but not my last selfie in front of the trail.

Trail, Mississippi River

Heading out of downtown Saint Paul, one has a beautiful view of the river and barges.

2 deer

2 deer were near me in the heart of the woods. Fawn wanted to check me out; mom said no and they took off.

Melissa Wenzel

About Melissa Wenzel

Car-free bicycle advocate, passionate state employee, union leader. MN's "Industrial Stormwater Sherpa." Human being first, government employee second.

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