Above the Falls Regional Park (ATF) is a ribbon of land that is located on both sides of the Mississippi River that spans 15.39 acres starting at the Plymouth Ave. Bridge. Eventually the park will expand to the scenic North Mississippi Regional Park where the Carl W. Kroening Interpretive Center is located. The portion of the ATF that exists today has become a popular place to launch boats, bike and jog along paved paths that dip under the Broadway Bridge, or sit and marvel at the panoramic view of the downtown skyline.
Nestled within this regional park is the Orvin “Ole” Olson Park. The park’s namesake was an advocate for removing diseased elm trees and replacing them with different species like hardy maples. He was an influential force in the Minneapolis park system and held dual roles as Chair of the Riverfront Development and Park Commissioner. Like the ATF, Orvin “Ole” Olson Park, is part of the river renaissance that began in Minneapolis in the 1970s to give residents an appreciation for the natural landscape of the river while they enjoy the parks for leisure and recreation. In keeping with Ole’s vision, the land was cleared of all invasive species and overgrown shrubs that had for so many years obscured the stunning view of the river.
In 2012 Minneapolis Park Board established a 20-year plan called RiverFirst: A Park Design Proposal and Implementation Plan for the Minneapolis Upper Riverfront to establish strategies for developing the park to its full potential that would improve the quality of life and promote healthy activities for Northside residents. This same master plan inspired the restoration at Orvin “Ole” Olson Park by planting native plants that were similar to the ones that once thrived along the river bank. Nearly 2,000 native wildflowers and herbaceous plants were planted, stabilizing the banks and preserving them from soil erosion, and creating an inviting habitat for butterflies and pollinators.
The park on the eastside of the river is more developed in part because of the art galleries that have sprung up in Northeast Minneapolis transforming it into a vibrant art district; attracting new and exciting restaurants like the Polynesian inspired Psycho Suzi or Betty Danger and her whimsical ferris wheel where customers can eat their dinner while enjoying the sweeping view of the river.
In stunning comparison the west side of the river seems to lag behind significantly. A major impediment to further development is the railroad tracks and industrial properties that have been permanent fixtures in North Minneapolis for generations. Part of the master plan is to purchase the privately owned land that lies between 22nd and 41st Aves. which would extend West River Parkway and the ATF. It would also allow for the development of the Northside Wetlands Park and create the 26th Ave. Overlook and Water Access. The new park extension would connect it to the already existing North Mississippi Regional Park. It would revitalize that part of North Minneapolis linking residents to our most treasured resource, the mighty Mississippi.
Mark Twain understood the river because he was born and raised along its magnificent shore in Hannibal, Missouri. And as a young man he worked for several years as a steamboat pilot and wrote extensively about it. He once wrote, “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…”
We may not be able to tame the river, but the parks, trails and parkways that were created for us along the shore of the waterway provide us with a place where we can appreciate the natural landscape. And that is what the river renaissance is all about.