"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  

Jane Jacobs

Anoka's Trail System

Last weekend I went up to the family cabin to help my dad open it up as we do every spring. Knowing Saturday was going to be filled with raking leaves and moving the dock and boatlift, I decided to bump up my long run to Friday after work. Since I was already in Anoka, I took the opportunity to explore some of the trails and parks that I have only seen on maps. My original intent was to make it up to the Anoka Nature Preserve, a large swathe of land held in a natural state. Unfortunately, a few wrong turns in the southwestern neighborhoods kept me just short of reaching it.

Historic Red River Ox Cart Trail map

Historic Red River Ox Cart Trail map

I began my journey across the pedestrian bridge over the Rum River south of the dam. Anoka is very divided because of the two rivers (Mississippi and Rum) and Highway 10 and 169, but has made an attempt through a few bridges to reconnect the neighborhoods. After the bridge I stood at the pedestrian light waiting for my turn to cross Ferry Street and marveled at the sign telling me it could take up to three minutes before I could cross. Clearly there is a preference for cars.

The start of my run behind City Hall next to the Rum River

The start of my run behind City Hall next to the Rum River

After finally crossing, I cut through an older neighborhood on Benton Street. This area is mixed with historic turn of the century houses, post WWII homes, and along the Mississippi River, large stately homes. As I peeked through the houses onto the river I could not help but dream of someday living on it. At the end of the cul-de-sac, the Mississippi River Regional Trail began. I ran past a small wetland area, great for bird watching, a small playground, and a fishing pier jointly created by the City and the Department of Natural Resources. The view from the pier is breathtaking. All that power coming down the river with various bird species calling to one another across it.

View just south of the fishing pier of the Mississippi River

View just south of the fishing pier of the Mississippi River

An stone bridge led me over a branch of the river onto Kings Island. I reached the end of the trail and thought I would follow what looked like from aerial images a well worn off road path to lead me back to the bridge. This path clearly is not used in the spring when heavy rains have flooded the low lying areas of the island. I had to stop and turnaround, doubling back on my short jaunt through the woods.

Off the trail on Kings Island

Off the trail on Kings Island

As I trecked back to the entrance of the MRT trail I decided to wind a new path back to Ferry Street. This was a mistake as I attempted to take Yoho Drive, a street with a very misleading name. Yoho is a big circle that does not reveal its path until you might as well just finish running around it. A lesson in neighborhoods constructed without much thought to the user. I made a few more errors in navigation through the neighborhood, but finally made it to Ferry Street where I thought crossing would be quicker at the Main Street intersection. I was disappointed to wait a lengthy amount of time before it was my turn to cross, again demonstrating the need for a grade separated (bridge or tunnel) pedestrian crossing. The current tunnel allowing pedestrian and bicyclists to cross under Main Street at this intersection is well traversed and a similar one under Ferry Street would also be well used.

Main Street pedestrian tunnel painted by Anoka High School students

Main Street pedestrian tunnel painted by Anoka High School students

After crossing under Main Street via the artwork covered tunnel I followed the riverfront trail north towards the former Anoka State Hospital. The trail is in need of some repairs and the missing connection across between Pleasant Street and the railroad tracks, but once you are by the river again it is an enjoyable journey. Running along the Rum River is beautiful along this stretch. You are mostly enclosed in a forest area, with scattered DOT buildings in the mix. One such building is an old house converted into a garage used by the DOT. The chimney and double hung windows give away its history.

Curious old house turned garage on the DOT property

Curious old house turned garage on the DOT property

I made it just to the southern boundary of the Anoka Nature Preserve before turning around. On my way back I passed a few people walking, one group with their dog, and a few bicyclists. There were a number of fishermen at the Bunker Lake Boulevard bridge. For 5 pm on a Friday the trail was fairly well utilized. Some of the bicyclists appeared to be commuting home.

View from under the Bunker Lake Boulevard bridge down the Rum River

View from under the Bunker Lake Boulevard bridge down the Rum River

Ever since that run I notice more about Anoka as I drive around for work than I did before. As I crossed over the bridge on the Rum River into the city of Ramsey I remembered what it was like to stand under the bridge. I traced my path back down to city hall, arriving there in a more beautiful way than the car ride back I was taking. Cities have so much to offer and should be explored on foot, otherwise you risk missing out on unique views a car cannot hope to provide.