As more building projects were on the design table in the early 2000s, planners realized that stricter wetlands regulations would impact the designs for a new cardiac and a future cancer center. Eventually, it was realized that if they embraced the creek and made the creek part of their plans, they could find a way to build their buildings, and end up with a project that was more than just bricks and mortar. The concept that emerged is called ‘healing spaces’. That is, a space that is designed to help put patients in a mood where they can heal better than in the bland institutional spaces that were commonly built in the 1950s and 1960s. In this case, the centerpiece would be a boardwalk system that would allow patients to connect with nature.
One core feature of the project was the remeandering of the Minnehaha Creek. When this wetland was drained, the creek channel was dredged, resulting in a straight channel that was little more than a ditch. The creek bed was flat and shallow, and the water ran fast, so there was little life in the creek. The remeandering took 1200 feet of the channel between Louisiana and Excelsior Avenues and turned it into a series of winding curves. The increased channel length and the curves would slow down the water. Several deep holes were built to provide fish habitat. To prevent the channel from eroding, 90 trees were laid down and buried along the creek banks such that their roots would hold the creek banks in place.
Once the creek was restored, 16,000 square feet of boardwalk was installed. The walkway features a central loop around a settling pond, with three branches leading back to dry land. One branch leads to Louisiana Avenue, while the other two lead back to the hospital complex. The walkway averages 8 feet wide, but there are wider spots configured as rest areas and observation decks. The walkway doesn't actually cross the creek. As a result, it isn't exactly a Minnehaha Creek crossing, but it is such a spectacular project that it simply had to be included in this ‘Bridges and Structures’ feature.
The hospital web site has a page that lists the awards that they have received over the past few years. Included in the list that features awards for cancer treatment and patient outcomes is one that hardly seems connected to the medical profession, and that is the 2008 Watershed Heroes Award for Excellence in Development. But rather than listen to those expects, I suggest consulting with the real expects on the success of this project—the birds. One does not have to spend much time at this site before realizing that large numbers of birds have already made their homes along this section of the restored Minnehaha Creek.
The photo above is looking east towards the Methodist Hospital complex from Louisiana Avenue near the west entrance to the boardwalk. The photo below is a sign located near the south entrance to the boardwalk.