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Boreal Community Media

Grand Marais waterfront expands options

Sep 08, 2022 10:14AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Gary Grover

By Kitty Mayo - Business North - September 7, 2022

After a decade of behind-the-scenes negotiating, the Grand Marais waterfront development is well under way, reflecting a compromise that serves working waterfront needs and gives everyone the chance to stroll or roll out into the harbor.

Dubbed the Parkside Public Water Access by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a new breakwall topped with a generous walkway was built last year. Demolition of existing buildings was completed, and work on the water access parking lot and launch is in progress.

Keenly aware of old fissures left from a scuttled water access project brought out years ago by the DNR, Jim Boyd, executive director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce, said this project through has laid groundwork for the future.

Boyd’s priority has been mending fences and he saw the time was right to rebuild connections between groups that could get real work done. “I saw this as a possible way to begin to get healing for all of that, and it might ultimately lead to revisiting the entire harbor,” Boyd said.

When the Parkside proposal was in its early stages, Boyd knew the public needed to be heard. “They said, ‘Don’t make the breakwall higher than it already was because of the sight-lines for photography,’ and they wanted a great walkway on top that would allow people to get out into the middle of the harbor.”

The city’s state lobbyist counseled to not shy away from asking for what the community wanted just for fear of being told no because of extra cost. The community stood firm, and, Boyd said, “That carried the day.”

The Artist’s Point boat launch, part of the Coast Guard parking area on the other side of the harbor, was developed over 30 years ago through a DNR-city partnership. As proposed, safe harbor development at Grand Marais was controversial, with locals rallying to halt any plan proposed by the DNR to alter the harbor. 

As the lakefront swelled with visitors, ideas about how to manage the tourist-filled Artist’s Point evolved. In 2012 the DNR and city entered a partnership agreement to work on the harbor again, with the city providing land and the DNR funding, that finally came through in 2018.

Welcoming the public to another lakefront gem is what Dave Tersteeg, city parks manager, is all about. Entrance to Parkside passes through Grand Marias’ 300-site municipal campground, but Tersteeg noted, “This is not a private campground. We want to put out the invitation to come on in.” 

After 16 years working for the parks department, Tersteeg believes this is a “thoughtful redevelopment and positive change” that serves the locals and tourists.

Reconstruction of a breakwall that was essentially 100 feet of rock rubble could more accurately be called a transformation. The 200-foot J-shaped breakwall is a proper pedestrian promenade, a 10-foot-wide, concrete-capped structure finished with a parapet knee wall that splashes waves downward and offers better protection to the boat launch.

From the breakwall, Tersteeg described, there is a fabulous view not only of the big water, but looking back toward land a beautiful landscape unfolds of the beach and campground nestled below the Sawtooth Mountains. 

This year, landside improvements will be completed, including stormwater management, a parking lot, boat ramp, docks and landscaping.

“It really is a statement of intelligent design that is functional in protecting the launch from southeast waves, is an attractive pedestrian access, a tourist draw and creates improved stormwater management,” said Tersteeg.

Old public works buildings that were built strictly for function were removed in phase one. They had reflected little understanding about stormwater runoff mitigation at the end of the road leading to the bay. Making room for a paved parking lot with stormwater swales, vegetative buffer and shallow settling ponds, the upgrade will be more environmentally protective than the gravel lots and roads that frequently led to brown offshore water in heavy rains and big wave events.

“This will address proper stormwater management backed by science. I don’t take that lightly,” said Tersteeg.

Collaborating with the city on the Parkside project has been nothing but positive for Kent Skaar, DNR project manager. “Our cooperative relationship between the city and DNR remains a fantastic one.”

Skaar hopes that moving at least some boat activity to the other side of the bay will create a safer, more enjoyable use of the harbor for everyone. The older boat access at Artist’s Point became a challenge as boaters and daytrippers competed for parking space near the old Coast Guard station.

“The challenge had increased as the community’s popularity increased,” said Skaar, leaving those with boat trailers navigating through a busy downtown.

Perhaps what Skaar is most enthusiastic about is the creation of true access for those with disabilities. “This will be a fully accessible site, from designated parking for handicap accessibility, to a hard surface, and even designated parking stalls for people who are launching watercraft and need wheelchair accessibility.”

In addition, said Skaar, are two accessible parking stalls in a separate area for a non-motorized dock, often used for kayak launching, and wheelchair-accessible sidewalks from parking to the end of the breakwall.

To read this original story and more news, follow this link to the Business North website.

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