Proposed plan for Thompson Oaks wetland restoration

Thompson Oaks Wetland Restoration Moving Forward

Thanks to Jameson’s Irish Bar and West St. Paul Chiropractic for their support.

Dumped on for decades and then buried for a golf course, a wetland and creek in the middle of West St. Paul will be restored. The Dakota County project will revitalize green space, restore a creek with waterfall features, and add a boardwalk and looping trails to the River-to-River Greenway. The $5.4 million project is expected to be completed in 2022.

Former Golf Course

The City of West St. Paul closed the former Thompson Oaks Golf Course in early 2018 with the YMCA’s sale to Hy-Vee. Taxpayers subsidized the golf course for years, but the YMCA sale meant losing two of the nine holes. That made closing the course a simple decision for the city council.

The four-story Westlyn apartment project and a proposed townhouse development on the east side of the site will bring needed housing to the area.

The remainder of the site is difficult to develop due to contaminated soil. From the 1960s through the early 1980s, the former wetlands were filled in with construction debris and soil. The creek was diverted to a storm pipe and buried, probably in the 1990s with the development of the golf course.

Aerial views of Thompson Oaks from 1970 and 2017.
Aerial views showing the historic creek in 1970 and location of buried waste in 2017.

Wetland Restoration

The wetland restoration project will return Thompson Oaks to a more natural state and open up green space to the general public.

Environmental Improvements

The project will remove contaminated soil and waste, restore wetlands, and recreate the historic creek with a waterfall/outlet feature. All of that means substantial water quality improvements, which is important because the site handles 25% of West St. Paul’s stormwater. Multiple features including hydrodynamic separators, sediment deltas, and an infiltration basin will trap sediment and trash and filter phosphorus and other pollutants.

The result? Preventing 45,397 pounds of sediment and 93 pounds of phosphorus from reaching the Mississippi River each year, according to current estimates. That doesn’t include the trash, oils, and trace metals that will also be filtered. The project will also infiltrate an estimated 78 acre-feet of water per year, which replenishes groundwater and reduces downstream flooding.

Accessible Green Space

The public will have greater access as the River-to-River Greenway trail will be routed through the site and along the restored creek. There will also be looping trails around the creek and a boardwalk over the pond that will connect to the recently completed trail behind Wentworth Library.

The River-to-River Greenway trail connects to the recently completed Robert Street tunnel to the west, giving access to Marthaler and Garlough Parks, and to the east it goes through Thompson Park and eventually the Mississippi River.

Full Thompson Oaks wetland restoration concept plan

What About Hy-Vee?

And what about Hy-Vee? That’s been the most frequent question since the Iowa-based grocery store bought the YMCA property in 2019 and demolished the building in 2020. There are still no clear answers. However, the Hy-Vee project proposes rerouting a couple storm sewer lines under the new trail. Dakota County will reroute those storm sewer lines and bill Hy-Vee in order to get the storm lines done without tearing up a new trail.

There’s still no timeline for the Hy-Vee project, but Dakota County has been in communication with Hy-Vee to coordinate this portion of the project. That suggests Hy-Vee is at least still engaged and hasn’t completely abandoned plans for a West St. Paul store just yet.

June 7, 2022 Update: Or not. Hy-Vee announced in April that they would not be building in West St. Paul.

Cost of Wetland Restoration

The total price tag for the wetland restoration is just under $5.4 million. $576,000 comes from a state clean water grant, West St. Paul will contribute $676,000 in storm utility funds, and the rest will come from Dakota County.

Originally proposed in 2019, the project has been delayed while trying to secure funding. With a $1.5 million clean up grant falling through, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners decided to fund the project before the clean water grant expires in 2022.

Bidding will happen in spring with construction likely in the fall of 2022. The trail should open before the end of the year.

July 30, 2022 Update:

Construction started late so it’s unlikely the project will be ready in the fall, most likely a spring 2023 completion.

Nov. 1, 2022 Update:

Thanks to a few factors, construction won’t be completed until late spring or early summer 2023. County engineers underestimated the amount of work (it took two and a half months to remove contaminated dirt instead of one) and the contractor got a slow start. Dakota County did have a flexible end date on the bid in order to get a better price.

Some of the stormwater work has also taken over part of the Wentworth Library parking lot temporarily.

Some of the major earthmoving work is finishing up this fall and it will be seeded, with work on the boardwalk happening over the winter. But the trail won’t be paved until spring, with an opening likely in May or June (though there will still be ongoing construction on the town home project and the Thompson-Oakdale roundabout).

March 10, 2023 Update:

The boardwalk across the pond has gone in (though it’s not open to the public yet).

Snowy view of newly installed boardwalk at the pond behind the library in West St. Paul.

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