AP NEWS

Nature Nut: Big things happening at Silver Lake?

March 14, 2019

Over the past 10 months, Silver Lake Friends leaders have worked to bring about changes to improve and enhance Silver Lake Park.

But, unbeknownst to us and most Rochester residents, behind the scenes a lot of planning has taken place for even more major changes to what I call Rochester’s “Central Park.”

I have recently communicated with city staff and others regarding these potentially major impacts to Silver Lake. While I tried to anticipate downsides to the proposed changes, positives appeared to outweigh negatives.

Planning began with the flood control lake dredging, originally scheduled for 2020. Secondly, a proposed trail on the north lakeshore was proposed, to allow walkers, runners, and bikers to avoid going on the 14th Street sidewalk to get around the lake.

A proposed north-south bridge adjacent to the Broadway bridge would allow many of us to avoid using the narrow bridge sidewalk with cars humming by.

But the real game-changer is the most recent addition to the multi-faceted project, a proposal to replace the existing dam with more natural rock and earthen structures to maintain the lake level above them.

Removal of the dam has only a couple possible downsides I can see, one obviously being cost. Another would be the impact on the rowing club, which makes the lake come alive three seasons of the year with their colorful sleek shells.

Rochester Rowing Club coach Caleb Schuder indicated “we may need to temporarily relocate to Cascade Lake or Lake Zumbro during dredging, but Silver Lake is certainly home for us now, and it would be nice to keep it that way.” And club President Rebecca Murray told me, “I would really hope the city doesn’t overlook the beauty the rowers provide to Silver Lake.”

While not affecting hundreds or thousands of people, the construction of the north-shore trail would impact about 15 homes on the Lake. One homeowner, Ray Bowman-Phelps, while concerned, felt the important thing is to “have some public discussion,” as his initial thinking was removal of the dam would mean the lake would disappear.

But the project may have many benefits, including environmentally, recreationally, and economically. Removal of unnecessary dams across the country has allowed more natural movements of things living in the rivers. Fish are the most obvious and, according to DNR Mississippi River Habitat Specialist Dan Dieterman, “This project would help to spread various age-classes of fish upstream of the current dam.” Mississippi mussel expert Mike Davis said, “It may help re-establish native clam species, like the elktoe and fluted shell, above the current lake.”

Recreationally, what I envision as a new stream channel, beginning upstream of the current dam, could allow for kayaking and canoeing out of Silver Lake. The trail improvements, including a trail extension under the Broadway bridge, would have great benefits for thousands of bikers, walkers, and runners. And although removal of the dam would have associated costs, maintenance of a more natural drop might have cost benefits.

So, I look forward to the upcoming open House at 4 p.m. March 27 in the former Silver Lake fire station. Hopefully we will see some drawings and schematics on how this project will look.

I can’t help but believe if this multi-faceted project comes to fruition, many of the other improvements the Silver Lake Friends are promoting will also.