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Theodore Wirth Beach
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Theodore Wirth Beach
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Wirth Beach Redevelopment
Construction to Begin Late Summer 2004

Changes are in the works for Wirth Lake Beach in Theodore Wirth Park.

The Vision

    Picture a widened beach that features an accessible dock and is defined by a retaining wall that doubles as a bench; a new beach house, in its present location, but with lots of open space including a veranda that circles the staff office and opens onto a plaza with umbrella tables, an arbor, and a wide view of the beach; a large oval rain garden, with its seasonal splash of color, equal to all the stormwater that flows (or floods) into it in the middle of the newly configured, imperceptibly graded parking lot; increased plant diversity in the restored wetland area complete with boardwalk and interpretive features; updated and accessible playground equipment; new picnic tables and benches; and new trail connections.

    Directly west of downtown (and technically located in Golden Valley), Theodore Wirth Park is the largest of the regional parks in the Minneapolis park system. Nestled into the heart of the 759-acre park, Wirth Lake is both picturesque and functional. Its swimming beach, volleyball courts, playground, picnic facilities, pathways, and fishing pier and boat launch - as well as the nearby wetlands loaded with cattails and the numerous oak trees that populate the area - offer the serenity and recreational opportunities afforded by green space and explains why it has long been a magnet for family picnics as well as city-wide events.

    The beach house, however, replaced the original building in 1957, which makes it just shy of 50 years old and unable to meet 21st Century demands. The playground was installed in 1971 and no longer meets safety or accessibility standards; the picnic facilities and pathways were created in the 80s. Invasive species crowd the shoreline and dominate the wetland area. Many facilities in the beach area are inaccessible to wheelchairs, and the water delivery system is aging and inadequate. While a variety of repairs have been done over the years, today the park is in need of a complete overhaul.

Planning Process

    In the fall of 2002, with the first installment of capital improvement funding in place, the MPRB retained a design team and convened a Citizen Advisory Committee to begin planning the redevelopment of Wirth Beach. Throughout the several-meeting process, the design team, headed by Close Landscape Architecture, collaborated with the sixteen-member committee to come up with a concept plan.

    Because Wirth Lake is part of a regional park, the appointed CAC represented a cross section of park users from across the city as well as from the adjacent neighborhoods. Appointments to the committee were made by Park Commissioners, City Council, and the mayors of both Minneapolis and Golden Valley, as well as by area neighborhood organizations. The CAC considered the park plan concepts in light of user needs as they relate to a variety of safety, environmental, maintenance, crime prevention, and budget issues. Ultimately the committee forwarded its recommendations to the board, which held a public hearing and subsequently approved the concept plan.

Construction Fall 2004

    Because the legislature and Metropolitan Council fund regional park projects in installments, the plan can only be implemented a section at a time. This August or September (2004) construction will begin to renovate the beach house, replace and update the water delivery and sanitary sewer systems, and build a water retention pond. If the bids are favorable, additional components of the plan could be accomplished in the first phase as well.

A Little History of the Park

    Originally named Keegan's Lake and renamed Glenwood Lake in 1890, the lake was part of 38 acres acquired by the Minneapolis Park Board in 1909, enlarging the original 64 acres purchased in 1889. In his park history, Minneapolis Park System 1883-1994, Theodore Wirth recounts how pleased the local residents were that the park would now include this eastern section, an area where "an old beer garden and resort of dubious character and reputation had long been an eyesore and detriment to that section of the city."

    In 1910, a Park Board nursery was established on the west side of the lake, where all plant material was grown for its parklands until 1980. In 1916-17, several thousand yards of gravel, sand and mud were removed to create the beach, and a beach house was built in 1918. The picnic shelter, up the hill across Glenwood Avenue from the beach area, was built in 1930. It continues to be a popular spot for family reunions, wedding receptions, and a variety of other events.

    In 1938, the lake, along with Glenwood Park, was renamed to honor Theodore Wirth, the Parks Superintendent who, during his tenure from 1905 to1938, laid the groundwork for Minneapolis' internationally known park system that we know and love today.

    From 1941 to 1964, Wirth Lake was the site of the Aqua Follies, a popular Aquatennial event. An Olympic swimming pool, complete with diving towers, was installed to showcase the water spectacle at the northeast end of the lake. A 6,000-seat grandstand filled with spectators twice daily throughout the Aquatennial. Since 1994, Wirth Beach and picnic grounds has been the site of the annual Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the end of slavery and celebrates the humanity, glory, and strength of African American people. The event attracts as many as 50,000.

Water Quality

    Efforts to improve Wirth Lake's water quality in recent years have resulted in a steadily improving Tropic State Index, or TSI, making it more attractive to swimmers. In terms of aesthetic appeal, it is recommended that a lake's TSI - indicator of the water's clarity - be 59 or lower. From a high of 64 in 1994, the TSI has declined to 57 in 2001 and 55 in 2002. While Lakes Harriet, Calhoun, and Cedar boast TSIs in the upper 40s, Wirth's is respectable, and lower than Lake of the Isles, Lakes Nokomis and Hiawatha.

FFI: Mike Kimble or Belinda Davis, 612-230-6400


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Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
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