The Missing Link Between Nine Mile Creek Trail and Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Two wonderful public amenities make their home in the southwest Minneapolis metro: Nine Mile Creek and Hyland Lake Park Reserve. As luck has it, these gems are separated by less than a mile. However, when walking and biking, the current connection between the two leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s dive into what we currently have, what we’re missing and where we’re headed!

Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail: This beautiful regional trail weaves through Richfield and Edina before connecting into downtown Hopkins. It is a destination in its own right, winding along and even above its namesake, Nine Mile Creek, in parts. The trail includes over a mile of elevated wooden boardwalk in addition to the more typical paved asphalt.

Hyland Lake Park Reserve: This regional park is described as “a scenic retreat in the heart of Bloomington” by Three Rivers Park District. It contains prairie, woodlands, hiking trails and several large bodies of water in addition to a multitude of active recreation activities including skiing, biking and hiking over its 1,000-plus acres.

A Missing Link

As the crow flies, only a mile separates Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail and Hyland Lake Park Reserve. If connected, users of the trail could bike or walk on a continuously separated path from as far south as the Minnesota River over to the far side of Richfield to the east and downtown Hopkins to the west. From those points, they could connect to the Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail and Cedar Lake Regional Trail, respectively. This would open a network of transportation and recreation possibilities for the cost of about one mile of pavement. All of the aforementioned trail is already in place except for this connection.

A clipping from the Three Rivers Park District interactive map (Annotated by Henrik Kowalkowski)

Current Connections

While there is great potential, the current connecting routes for cyclists and pedestrians are uncomfortable at best and downright dangerous in certain portions. Let’s jump to the challenges:

  • High Traffic Speeds: Traffic on East Bush Lake Road to the north and south of I-494 travels at high speeds (up to 40 miles per hour in the corridor), creating an intimidating environment for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Lack of Bicycle/Pedestrian Infrastructure: There is only limited cycling infrastructure and often discontinuous sidewalks along the connecting corridor, which roughly follows East Bush Lake Road and Cahill Road.
  • Crossing Quality: Safe crossing options, particularly around the East Bush Lake Road bridge at I-494, are lacking. Additionally, this bridge currently has a slip lane for highway traffic exiting north into Edina from the highway. This increases crossing distances and the risk of collision between pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Poor Signage: The existing street-based connection between Hyland Lake Park Reserve and Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail lacks route signage and consistent visual design, making it a challenge for users to navigate without prior knowledge or a navigation device.

This part of Edina was historically commercial/industrial, but its character has been changing as evidenced by Wooden Hill Brewing taking up residence in 2017. Additionally, the area directly south of the I-494 bridge between Highway 100 and East Bush Lake Road in Bloomington by Normandale Lake Office Park has seen a significant amount of new residential development in the past 10 years. This means that investment in walking and biking options will have a major impact on quality of life for not only regional trail users but local residents as well.

Personal Experience

As a resident of Richfield, I have attempted to use the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail to reach Hyland Lake Park Reserve. It’s a testament to the work our region has put in that the vast majority of this ride is both pleasant and beautiful. However, the missing link was anything but.

A clipping from the Three Rivers Park District interactive map (Annotated by Henrik Kowalkowski)

In the summer of 2023, a friend and I set out along Nine Mile Creek. At Highway 100 we haphazardly made our way to Hyland. We were disappointed and disoriented from the get-go. We struggled to find a safe route through Edina and over the bridge at I-494 and East Bush Lake Road. At one point, we even found ourselves riding with traffic for a stretch marked 40 mph. Ultimately, we chose to take a separate route home via West 94th Street, skipping the connection with Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail altogether. Sadly, we had little luck there as well. We found ourselves weaving along thin sidewalks encroached with vegetation as we tried to keep ourselves safe from traffic.

I enjoy sharing new bike excursions with my wife, but I cannot see myself asking her to join me on this route, and I won’t be going this way again myself. My experience must not be singular. I imagine others have also struggled through this corridor and would benefit from a dedicated, safe bike and pedestrian path like what exists on Bryant Avenue South in Minneapolis.

We love taking the fantastic Bryant Avenue South two-way protected bikeway Photo: Henrik Kowalkowski

I returned home from my once promising bike excursion feeling deflated. But when I hopped on the internet, I was pleased to discover that both a plan and an active grant application are in place to get a new connection funded! If approved, Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail and Hyland Lake Park Reserve could be connected and elevated to regional trail status by 2028. 

Proposed Connection

In March 2019, Three Rivers published a draft master plan for the Canadian Pacific Rail Regional Trail (CPRRT). This document is incredibly detailed and covers the entire regional trail stretching from Bloomington to New Hope and Crystal. For the purposes of this article, I will talk about segment A from this plan and particularly subsegments A3 and A4, as they represent the unfinished trail segments before Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail and Hyland Lake Park Reserve are connected.

The CPRRT plan is well worth a read on its own to better understand just how great it will be as a major regional north-south thoroughfare and how strategically Three Rivers Park District is able to plan.

Since the 2019 draft, subsegments A3 and A4 have been combined for planning purposes into subsegment L1, and a large portion of segment A is now referred to as CP Regional Trail–South.

Three Rivers Park District grant application context map (Annotated by Henrik Kowalkowski)

To understand the current state of this connection, I interviewed Danny McCullough, a regional trail systems manager with Three Rivers and primary contact on the grant application. He explained how every two years the Metropolitan Council takes in federal transportation funds, which it distributes for projects like these in the form of grants. For more information on the solicitation process see Max Singer’s informative Streets.mn article from January 2023.

Three Rivers has applied for a $5.5 million grant to fund this connection and will hear back on the status of that application by late July/early August. The project has a significant amount of backing. In November 2023, the Active Transportation Committee for Hennepin County (of which I am a member) voiced its support for the segment and other Three Rivers projects with a formal resolution. That being said, this project is one of 38 vying for 2024 planning dollars.

If the grant is approved and the trails are connected, Three Rivers will be able to elevate the section of the CPRRT to regional trail status. This would provide additional funding for maintenance of the trail and for signage and other way-finding amenities.

The Three Rivers way-finding is clear and consistent. Photo: Henrik Kowalkowski

Coordination Among Jurisdictions

According to Jordan Kocak, a transportation planner with Hennepin County, regional trails are often massive interagency coordination projects. The connection between Nine Mile and Hyland is no outlier. This project spans two municipalities, one of which includes a portion of a county road and an interstate crossing. Luckily, we have Three Rivers Park District, a body that has done lot of work coordinating among the following entities in order to deliver a strong grant application to the Metropolitan Council.

  • MnDOT: The Minnesota Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over the bridge spanning I-494 at East Bush Lake Road.
  • Hennepin County: The county manages East Bush Lake Road (County Road 28) south of Edina through Hyland Lake Park Reserve to Old Shakopee Road West in Bloomington.
  • City of Bloomington: Part of the connection (L1), subsegment A3, is in Bloomington.
  • City of Edina: Part of the connection (L1), subsegment A4, is in Edina.
  • Metropolitan Council: The regional planning authority that organizes our fantastic bus system, among many other services, is also the same body that reviews and approves funding for this connection.

This list, while long, is not comprehensive. You can find all the approvals in the grant application.

Message of support from City of Bloomington (Three Rivers Park District Grant Application)

Looking Ahead

The growing population in the Bloomington Normandale Lake District and existing residents of Brookview Heights and South Cornelia neighborhoods in Edina deserve a safe, enjoyable way to experience the beauty of the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail and Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Additionally, the connection between Edina and Bloomington via the CP Regional Trail–South project presents a unique opportunity to elevate the Twin Cities’ regional trail network. I will be following the results of the grant solicitation process closely to see if the Metropolitan Council will select this project and enable Three Rivers to fulfill the promise of its plan.

After Hyland don’t forget to pop by the Normandale Japanese Garden! Photo: Henrik Kowalkowski
Henrik Kowalkowski

About Henrik Kowalkowski

Pronouns: he/him/his

Henrik Kowalkowski is a writer for Streets.mn. A data scientist for a health tech company, he is interested in road design, planning and policy. In his free time he loves to explore Richfield, Minneapolis and the surrounding communities by bike.