Park Board Adding Polish to ' Hidden Gem ' of Brownie Lake

The following article by Kaitlyn Walsh was published in the May 7, 2012 issue of the Star Tribune:

Park Board Adding Polish to ‘Hidden Gem’ of Brownie Lake

KAITLYN WALSH, Star Tribune

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is planning a rejuvenation of Brownie Lake that just might raise its profile.

Canoeists cruised the shallows of Brownie Lake last year.
Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is expected to start construction next year at Brownie Lake, the little and lesser-known member of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, to make it easier to access and enjoy by fixing disjointed paths, adding a pedestrian bridge to create a continuous loop around the lake, and rejuvenate the rundown bike trail.

The Park Board is in the design phase of the project, which was approved by the Park Board March 21 and will cost around $1 million.

The lake, a 28-acre site tucked between Theodore Wirth Park and Cedar Lake, is encircled with mostly deciduous trees and dense green shrubbery. It offers a bit of nature not far from the bustle of downtown Minneapolis: Turtles sunbathe on rotted logs on its edge, wood ducks skim its surface, and the chirp of red-winged blackbirds carries over the distant hum of Interstate 394 traffic and the occasional train passing by on the east side tracks.

But many of the dirt paths are disjointed, the bike trail is worn out, and the forest is overrun with buckthorn.

The infrastructure of the lake has been practically untouched for decades, but with a $610,000 grant from the state’s Legacy Amendment and about $500,000 in federal funding administered by the Metropolitan Council, the Park Board will construct a pedestrian bridge over the channel that connects Brownie to its neighbor, Cedar Lake, creating a continuous path, and build a one-mile mountain bike trail on the west side, said Deborah Bartels, the project manager.

In May 2013, as part of the project, the Minneapolis Department of Public Works will refurbish the sanitary sewer lift station on the east shore of the lake, which is over 50 years old, Bartels said. The construction will cause periodic closures of Cedar Lake Parkway.

The bike trail on the west side of Cedar Lake Parkway will be revamped or replaced, which is the Park Board’s priority based on feedback from the Community Advisory Council, a group of area residents chosen by the Park Board in 2010 to help determine the project’s goals, Bartels said. She said the Park Board improvements will start in summer of 2013.

“The neighborhoods around [Brownie Lake] treasure the natural beauty of it and would like to maintain that quality,” Bartels said. “There will be some damage caused to the park because of the construction, but it will recover.”

The Park Board will also repair sites of erosion and renovate storm pipes. There will be an ongoing effort to remove buckthorn that has infested much of the forest and replace it with native plant life, Bartell said.

Bartels said the Park Board may host discussions about the watershed that dumps into Brownie Lake to improve the quality of the storm water running into it and discuss treatment of water upstream of the lake.

Brownie Lake is a bit of a Twin Cities secret, according to Ron Leonhardt, the human resources director for a medical device company. He said he visits the lake about three times a week, often accompanied by his wife, two sons, or dog Laila, as it is a five-minute walk from their home in the South Tyrol Hills Neighborhood in Golden Valley.

On the weekends, he said he sees few people walking along the untamed dirt paths and maybe a couple with fishing poles. Any canoers that end up at the lake, he said, probably happened upon the tunnel that connects Brownie to Cedar Lake and just ended up there.

“It’s an adjacent little detour for most people,” Leonhardt said, not their destination. And the minimally manicured landscape and the seclusion this hidden gem provides is part of its charm, he said.

Brownie Lake and its siblings, Cedar, Harriet, Calhoun and Isles, are what draw people to the area, Leonhardt said.

“It’s the reason we stay in this neighborhood,” Leonhardt said.

Kaitlyn Walsh is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.