DNR plans boat launch next to St. Croix bridge

boat-trailerThere aren’t a lot of places to build a boat launch in the St. Croix Valley, according to Kent Skaar, a senior project manager with the Minnesota DNR. That’s because most of the places to put a launch are already developed.

“The opportunities have been relatively limited,” he said.

When the new St. Croix Crossing bridge is complete, however, the DNR plans to construct a boat launch at its base, just south of the bridge on the Minnesota side.

Plans include a double ramp angled downstream — away from the bridge pier — a decontamination station for removing weeds and invasive species, and 35 boat trailer parking spaces.

Skaar expects overnight parking will be allowed, but not for extended periods of time.

Parking will be restricted to vehicles with boat trailers and will not be intended for single vehicles carrying kayaks, canoes or passengers. That type of traffic can use the launch at the St. Croix Boom Site north of Stillwater, Skaar said. He added that the DNR may also consider a public water access in Stillwater’s future Bridgeview Park (formerly known as the Barge Terminal Property) south of downtown.

Conceptual designs for the Oak Park Heights boat launch call for a long, narrow asphalt parking lot, with roundabouts at either end.

“This is kind of an unusual layout,” said Brandon Helm, an acquisition and development specialist with the DNR.

The point of the design is to minimize the impact on wetlands along the riverbank by using areas already filled in by MnDOT during bridge construction. Some of those areas were meant to be filled permanently, but others were only intended to be filled temporarily, to allow sufficient access to the site during bridge construction. The proposed boat launch design would leave some of the temporary fill in place permanently and build the access on top.

The idea of creating public water access near the St. Croix Crossing site isn’t new. In the 1980s, the DNR began purchasing property in the corridor, but stopped at MnDOT’s request, due to plans for a new bridge. At the time, MnDOT committed to adding public water access in conjunction with the bridge project, Skaar said.

In September of 2012, the DNR and MnDOT executed a mitigation agreement “to locate and construct a public boat access facility to the St. Croix River.” The agreement provided the DNR $1.2 million for the purpose, which remains available for construction, Skaar said.

Currently the DNR is working to obtain the required permits for the proposed boat launch. Construction isn’t expected to start until 2019, with a potential opening in fall 2019 or spring 2020.

The Oak Park Heights City Council heard a presentation on the project March 14. Council members asked questions about practical matters such as trash receptacles and toilets.

Skaar said the site would probably have two portable toilets but no trash cans. That’s typical for the 1,685 public water access sites operated by the DNR.

“You bring it, you take it with,” Skaar said of trash. “It really is quite effective overall. There’s always someone who’s going to leave that diaper off to the side. … The minute you put out a trash can, somebody tries to cram a mattress and a refrigerator in it.”

Oak Park Heights Councilmember Mark Swenson said the site is ideal.

“Really you couldn’t find a better spot for a boat launch,” he said. “There’s minimal current right there.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]