Sunday, July 19, 2015

Urban Bike: City of Lakes

Today I'm off on my bicycle to visit every lake in Minneapolis, City of Lakes.

It took some effort to draw up a list of 16 Minneapolis lakes, or, to be more precise, lakes and other notable bodies of water.

The Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources) defines a lake as follows:
A lake is not defined by size or depth as some may suggest. A lake may be defined as an enclosed basin filled or partly filled with water. A lake may have an inlet and/or an outlet stream, or it may be completely enclosed (landlocked). Generally, a lake is an area of open, relatively deep water that is large enough to produce a wave-swept shore. 
I decided a body of water qualifies if the word "lake" appears in its name. To be safe, I also included some ponds.

I knew there were more than the six lakes listed in Wikipedia. I eyeballed the city's neighborhood map, Google Maps, and OpenStreetMap to find lakes and their names. My final list had 16 bodies of water.
Having done all this work, I discovered a 2013 water quality report for the Minneapolis Parks Board. Bingo! The report included a list of bodies of water which correlated with my list.

1. Powderhorn Lake. I'm standing by a lake in a park in a neighborhood that provides fodder for the ten o'clock news. Trees hide the city around me. A couple walks by, we chat, they point out an egret, they seem pleased when I observe this is a lovely park.

2. Lake Hiawatha. I cycle through a quiet neighborhood to the south side of Lake Hiawatha. Normally I just scoot past this lake on my way to Minnehaha Park and the Mississippi. Today I pause and glimpse the tops of the towers of Downtown four miles to the north.

3. Lake Nokomis. A couple minutes later I reach the popular beach lake, Nokomis. Overhead, pairs of planes disappear into the trees to land on parallel runways. I'll take the rumble of a modern stage 4 jet engine over the annoying whine of Ski-Doos. Gasoline-powered boats are not allowed on Minneapolis lakes. 

Beyond Lake Nokomis I take quiet streets to two small lakes hidden in residential areas. This is my first visit to these lakes. 

4. Diamond Lake.stand on a short fishing dock. The DNR stocks the lake with a variety of fish, but today there are no takers. As with every lake in Minneapolis, this lake is a retreat from the city. Shorefront houses hide in the trees. 

5. Grass Lake. In some ways this is a redux of Diamond Lake. It's small, with public access, surrounded by shorefront housing. The Minnesota DNR Web site states this lake is near Richfield the adjacent first-ring suburb. The Minneapolis neighborhood map claims this lake is in Minneapolis.

I'm as far south as I'm going to be today. It's time to head north through residential neighborhoods.

My next 5 lakes form the "Chain of Lakes" a series of lakes that flow via channels from one to the next. I start furthest downstream at Lake Harriet.

6. Lake Harriet. I pause to take a photo across the lake, north towards Downtown, still 4 miles away. Across the lake I can see a cluster of park buildings including the bandshell where I saw President Obama last summer. I stop at Bread and Pickle at the side of the bandshell for a veggie hummus sandwich.

7. Lake Calhoun. The other week, my 7-year-old nephew pointed at Minne the Lake Creature and asked me if it was real. I regret puncturing his childhood world with a straight answer.

Solo wind-powered sports are popular on this lake. In the summer, windsurfers show up in force. In winter, they morph into snowkiters.

8. Lake of the Isles. I watch a specialized boat remove invasive Eurasian Milfoil. This lake is personal. Almost 3 decades ago, I met my partner at a birthday brunch. At meal-end, I suggested a walk around this lake. Dwight accepted, the other guests wisely declined. Since then I've been around the lake over 10,000 times, many times with Dwight. 

We live a few blocks from Lake of the Isles, so I get to be here in all seasons. When Minne the Lake Creature has headed south to a warmer clime, our Isles creature emerges from the ice. This is a good running lake in the winter. The three mile path around the crenelated lakeshore ensures you're not running straight into a frigid northwest wind for too long.

9. Cedar Lake. When I described this lake to my 6-year-old nephew, he remembered if from a year ago as the lake with the guys practicing to walk a tightrope. This beach attracts the more rebellious type. There's generally a police car parked nearby, but I still occasionally catch a whiff of weed.

10. Brownie Lake. I walk my bike down an unpaved trail to this little hidden lake. The local paper calls it "the little lost lake." Today I have the lake to myself.

I head north on a cycle path into Theodore Wirth Park.

11. Birch Pond. There's no path so I park my bike, and crash through the undergrowth to catch a glimpse of this little pond. 

12. Wirth Lake. I walk past the beach. Folks are playing volleyball, sunning themselves, and strolling. A lifeguard watches over the swimmers.  Minneapolis and the neighboring suburb, Golden Valley share this park land.

I continue through Theodore Wirth Park, past the public golf course. The bike path is now set in a wide parkway towards the northern edge of Minneapolis. Just before I head east on my loop, I cycle a couple blocks to Ryan Lake.

13. Ryan Lake. Part of the lake is in Minneapolis, and part in Robbinsdale, the adjacent suburb. It's surrounded by shorefront houses, but, as with every lake there is public access. A sign warning of dangerous ice reminds me to treasure this warm summer day. I stand and watch a freight train crawling along a berm on the north shore.

14. Webber Pond. This pond could be a large puddle left after the latest rainstorm. It's the third in a series of ponds. The first, most distant pond is a freshwater swimming pool, the first in North America. The middle pond has special plantings to purify the water from the pool.

Now I need to head back south to Downtown. 

I'm having a fine time, so I don't take the most obvious route. I cross the Mississippi then trace the east side of the river past Nordeast oddities like Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge. "Welcome to Paradise."

I walk my bike past the "No Trespassing" sign defaced with "F___ Your Rules." I show implicit concurrence with the graffiti by crossing the wobbly boards of the Northern Pacific BNSF bridge back to the west side of the Mississippi. 

Another bike path, then Downtown bike lanes and I'm at my next lake. 

15. Loring Pond. I've attended many Pride festivals in this park. Back in the early 80's I would go to Pride in defiance: back then, people like me were still barred from entering the USA. With marriage equality, this year's Pride was definitely celebratory. Today, the park is quiet. In the distance, I glimpse the Basilica peeking out of the trees.

16. Spring Lake. I'm just a few blocks from our home. It's an inauspicious end to my explorations today. The lake is green thanks to lawn runoff. Unseen traffic rushes along the elevated Interstate behind me. But the lake looks well cared for: the park system has installed a dock. As with all the other lakes in Minneapolis, I don't see any garbage piled up.

Today I only explored part of the extensive park system in the City of Lakes. I am grateful for the parks and use them almost every day.

Unlike a country club or shopping mall, our parks are public spaces open to everyone. The community allows personal expression, and low income is not a barrier to entry.

The parks don't come cheap. We elect a board to administer the parks. They determine the budget, then raise much of that budget as a direct levy on our property taxes. The 2015 budget is $68 million for a city of 400,000. Our household's share is about $1,000 this year, a bargain considering the park system is our country club.

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