High Line Park in Duluth?

I recently spent a week in New York City for a vacation (well it was really to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, which was great, and as a bonus I got to meet him and it was life changing). But over the course of five days my wife and I did a lot, Times Square, 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, Yankee Stadium, Upright Citizen Brigade, Katz Deli (best sandwich I have ever had), Rockefeller Center, and grabbed bagels and coffee and walked on the High Line. Which was worth it as it was one of the things that I had made a point to go see while in New York. I went to school to be an Urban Planner (and failed miserably as you can see by my current employment status) but I have always been fascinated with cities, how they operate, how they can improve, and how they evolve. So why did I need to go see the High Line? Because it’s an old elevated rail line that some passionate, civic minded individuals wanted to turn into a productive and public use, which is now High Line Park.

This is the High Line

I will also preface this that living in West Duluth, I drive or ride my bike daily past two ore docks (the dividing line between West Duluth and Lincoln Park/West End). One (Dock 6) is the longest operating dock on the Great Lakes, and the other (Dock 5) is a no longer used ore dock.

What Is High Line Park? The High Line is an elevated freight rail line that was abandoned in 1980, transformed into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side opening in 2009. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition.

The High Line- built right into the city

It is now the non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line raises the funding to maintain and operate the High Line and its programs from both private and public sources.

This is a picture of the High Line overlooking the Hudson. There are a lot of places for walkers to city and look at the city. Fun fact some of the benches on the left are built into the old rail line and are moveable so that you can move as close or as far away from people as you would like

The High Line’s success has inspired other city projects to redevelop old, obsolete infrastructure and turn it into public use and create public spaces. The High Line has spurred real estate development in adjacent neighborhoods, has increased real-estate values in adjacent neighborhoods, and brings in nearly 5 million visitors annually.

People walk, sit, enjoy the city, drink their morning coffee or take in some greenery

The High Line is a public park owned by the City of New York, but it is maintained, operated, and programmed by Friends of the High Line, in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Rec. The Friends of High Line provide various programming for residents and members. The Friends of High Line are the stewards of the park and actively fundraise and cultivate members to continue to support the High Line.

The High Line has sparked several other projects across the country. I believe the list is currently at 14, and not all are former rail lines. It is worth noting that the High Line creator and some of the architects state that replicating the High Line is not easy.

They have kept some of the industrial past with the old rail lines

I don’t expect this to be easy, and I am not advocating for a copy and past of what New York did with the High Line and bring it here to Duluth. However I believe that there are enough similarities in which we could create a public space in the same spirit of taking an obsolete rail line and re-purposing it into a uniquely Duluth space that will work. However, and I shouldn’t have to tell readers, but Duluth isn’t necessarily flush with cash. Maintenance of a park like this would be of a concern, however what I believe is replicable from the High Line is finding boosters of the park to be stewards of a similar project. We have seen locally what a great success COGGS has done for the city, why not for an iconic park?

The old sign is still there and looks pretty awesome

If you’re driving north on the freeway, Dock 5 is the first one you drive under, extending out into the St. Louis River quite a bit. If you’re heading south on the freeway, it is the 2nd dock you cross under- abutting Wade Stadium. There is quite a bit of history between these two ore docks. You can read about some of the history of this dock here. But to sum it up, this was one of the most high tech docks built at the time (1913) and at the time was the largest in the world (that and Dock 6). Dock 5 was functional until the late 1980’s. Dock 5 has a 5,248 foot approach, and a dock length of 2,304 feet that sits about 80 feet above the water line. Combined the approach and dock is 7,599 feet long. There was a historical study completed in 2014 on Dock 5 to see if there was historical significance to the dock. Here is a link to the study if you’re so inclined, however it doesn’t appear that this rail line and dock have enough to be considered for the national register of historic places.

The dock on the right is the currently abandoned dock. The possibilities are endless!

You can see from the picture above that this is a really great opportunity. Unlike High Line this elevated rail line puts you out right on the water. Which is one of our city’s greatest assets. An added benefit is that the dock on the left is still active. If Dock 5 was open to the public you could watch ships load and get a glimpse of what it Dock 5 would have been like while still active. I am not an engineer (again I went to school to plan cities!) but I would like to think you could put a permanent pop up market up there, similar to Glensheen’s Winter Village, maybe use some old shipping containers, and convert them to rotating store fronts with short term leases (2, 4, 6, 8 weeks) so that it’s always a fresh experience and provide the maximum amount of vendors the opportunity to be up on Duluth’s Dock 5. I also really like this idea as it creates an additional focal point out West. We have seen what Canal Park has done for that area and downtown, I believe that if we are thoughtful with turning Dock 5 into a useable public space as a park and market it could be a fantastic opportunity further spurring growth in West Duluth and Lincoln Park and for the city.

An example of using shipping containers for store fronts
At water level of Dock 5- even more possibilities

The possibilities also extend to below the elevated part of Dock 5. There are possibilities to be water level with the St. Louis River. The foliage here is growing in through taconite pellets. (These photo’s of Dock 5 can be found on an interested blog post on Substreet which can be found here). It is also worth highlighting that in the even of removing old rail lines it costs significantly less to repurpose than to remove.

Next Steps

So now that you’re excited and thinking that this is the best idea ever or at least one with merit, how do we make this happen? I have reached out to Canadian National Railroad to see if they have future plans for Dock 5, and am awaiting a response. But if you’re interested in seeing if we can make this happen and have ideas about what to do with this project get in contact with me, lets grab a cup of coffee or a beer, I would love to get feedback and find people interested in seeing something happen. We would likely want to set up a working group to explore best practices, explore our opportunities, raise some money, engage in public outreach, and begin the long work of creating something new and sustainable for our city. Please pass this along to someone you may know that could be interested as well! As always my contact is below-

My email is nhobbs@duluthmn.gov

Twitter handle @hobbs_duluth

Facebook Page: Noah Hobbs- Duluth City Councilor At-Large

Phone Number #218–730–5351

P.S- Bruce Springsteen please come to Duluth.

Also here is a video of the High Line and Dock 5 if you’re interested