By Jana Hollingsworth
DULUTH — A popular section of the Lakewalk is getting an $8 million federal infusion to make it wider, smoother and strong enough to withstand extreme storms.
"I think we all know that this isn't a normal trail, the Lakewalk," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Wednesday at a news conference in Duluth announcing the funding.
The nearly 8-mile trail faces harsh weather, she said, and needs to be resilient to meet a changing climate and its effects on the coasts of Lake Superior.
Repairs, to take place in 2025, will focus on a 2.5-mile stretch that runs from the corner of the trail at the tip of Lake Superior to 26th Avenue East. When the project is complete, more than $50 million will have been spent on the Lakewalk to repair and reinforce it, stemming from three major storms in recent years.
Duluth was awarded an $8.2 million federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant, to be paired with more than $2 million in city funds to pay for the project that is expected to be complete by 2026.
The shoreline will be reinforced, although not as extensively as the section in Canal Park with its 100,000 tons of boulders. The fence between the trail and the rail line that runs parallel will be moved closer to the tracks, allowing more space between walkers and bikers of the trail, said Jim Filby Williams, the city's director of parks, properties and libraries.
Spots that aren't accessible to wheelchairs, such as steep hills, will also be addressed.
"All of those will be completely eliminated," Filby Williams said, and a bypass will run along the rail line at accessible grades to bring users to the middle of Leif Erikson Park.
Signs for wayfinding and points of interest will be installed, sharing the city's Indigenous and industrial pasts. The project will better connect the heavily used section of the Lakewalk to area businesses, Mayor Emily Larson said.
Grant money is intended to decrease barriers to use, she said, and link "the most incredible natural resource we have with our most important economic development assets behind it."
Major storms in 2017 and 2018 ravaged portions of the Lakewalk, tearing up boardwalk and pavement, uprooting light poles and rock and sweeping benches and earth away. The storms led to millions in reconstruction and restoration projects, closing portions of the trail for more than a year.
The investments made since then have been critical to Duluth businesses, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner said.
The storms and eventual closure of Lakewalk sections, "crushed business down in Canal Park and in the downtown," he said. "This ... community progress is something that absolutely needs to be celebrated."
Of the total $50 million investment, the city has paid about $1 for every $9 spent. The rest has come from various pots of federal and state money.