TLDR: This visionary project is great for the people of Rochester.
Tonight there is a meeting discussing a long planned project to improve connectivity and community amenities around Silver Lake. The project has enjoyed broad support from the Parks Board, City Council and City Staff. It is a really great project that might get hijacked by a few loud voices. That would be a damn shame.
There is a public meeting tonight:
Here are some of the proposed improvements:
I will not be attending the meeting, but will submit comments and encourage all of you to do the same. I have seen too many of these meetings where the loudest voices try to drown out what is best for the community. These meetings also attract a whiter, more wealthy contingent than the community at large. This is why public meetings alone are a poor way to gauge community support. They should be done in conjunction with targeted outreach to underrepresented communities.
The Silver Lake project would restore the natural flow of the river, eliminate the dam which has no functional purpose and will cost millions to maintain over the next 50 years. Dams are terrible for the natural environment and removals of no longer needed dams have become common.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the project. Probably the biggest disadvantage is that the lake would remain, but be about 15% smaller. This is because the area near the dam becomes a series of cascades. Most of what people think of as the lake will remain a lake including the entire area where the historic bridges are and the portion that goes into downtown and where the boat launch is.
A second private disadvantage and what is driving many of the opponents is the fact that there is no trail along the North side of the lake. While the city owns this land, it is de facto private lake shore that has been encroached upon. Unquestionably a trail entirely around a lake is a great amenity for a community, but something that a few adjacent owners don’t want.
Part of why this project has had near unanimous support from city staff, DNR staff, city council, and parks board is because there are so many advantages.
Probably the biggest benefit is the elimination of the most dangerous bike / ped intersection in Rochester. I have referred to this area as “Death Triangle.” 3 major trails come together with poor connectivity in this location. The Cascade trail takes off to the West of Broadway, The Bear Creek & South Zumbro trails can be accessed South of Silver lake, and the North Zumbro Trails take off to the North also on the West of Broadway. Because of the dam no underpass exists. All three connections require an unsafe connection near Broadway. By removing the dam all 3 of these trail systems become connected and that is a huge benefit.
A second benefit is that the project will complete the lakeside trail around Silver Lake, the public owns the lake, the lakeshore, and we deserve to have a trail around the lake.
While the lake is slightly smaller the park remains the same size and will have an additional amenity in a series of cascades which could potentially be used as a kayak run or something similar. Denver successfully did this near where a flagship REI is now located. The existing rental facilities can branch into more activities with safer connections. Additional green spaces with native habitat further enhance the expanded park system of amenities.
Beyond the recreational benefits there are huge environmental and financial benefits. Removal of the dam will save roughly a million dollars in the next 20 years and much much more over the next 50, all while creating an unnecessary hazard. By removing the dam the entire Zumbro River / Cascade Creek / Silver Creek / Bear Creek ecosystem becomes stronger & healthier.
This is a situation where the benefits greatly outweigh the costs, but there still is a contingent that would wish to not see this done often for their personal private benefit.
When we talk about the improved connectivity this certainly helps with recreation, but also access. Places like the Rec Center, 125 Live, Public Library, Downtown employers, and public schools all benefit from the easier, safer connections for those who choose or are unable to drive. Seems like a great benefit in light of climate change and rising energy prices.
Lastly a new North South bridge over the river would replace the treacherous elevated sidewalks along Broadway that immediately fall into lanes of traffic.
A recent history of controversies:
Silver Lake has had its fill of controversies and plenty of people love to tell the city everything they are doing wrong, without doing any research into why decisions are as they are. We used to have fertilized grass going down to the water, we now have native plants which keep the water cleaner. We also have a massive overpopulation of geese. Despite using the most humane, legal methods of quelling the overpopulation city staff is still criticized. Some of the park supporters also made some pretty offensive comments about individuals experiencing homelessness as they found shelter in the former fire station near the park. The creation of a water park / splash pad where the current pool is also faces opposition. Rochester has 2 outdoor pools a 5 minute bike ride from each other. The current plan is to invest in the one at Soldiers Field and create a splash pad at Silver Lake. Redoing 2 pools would take millions from other park projects.