Artists at work on the Charlton tunnel mural along the River-to-River Greenway.

Charlton Tunnel Mural Showcases Ecosystems and Seasons

West St. Paul Reader provides neighborhood news supported by neighbors. Become a member today.

A new mural runs the entire 96 feet of the Charlton tunnel along the River-to-River Greenway in West St. Paul—it also stretches across the ceiling. The underpass connects Dodge Nature Center and Garlough Environmental Magnet School, so it’s fitting that it showcases ecosystems throughout the seasons.

Where: Near Charlton and Marie, the underpass can be accessed from Garlough. The tunnel makes for safer passage of the River-to-River Greenway trail.

Who’s involved? This project is a collaboration with Garlough students guided by two Minneapolis artists, Meg Erke and Megan Moore. The project has the support of Dakota County Parks, Dakota County Public Arts Citizen Advisory Committee, and Dodge Nature Center.

  • “One of the cool things is everybody walking and biking through the tunnel and watching their reactions,” said Erke. “It’s delightful to work where people are cheering you on.”
Artists painting in the Charlton tunnel.

How does the project work?

  • Erke and Moore met with students at the end of last year to get their ideas and input for the project. The students carried clipboards and pencils to Dodge Nature Center to do initial sketches with the artists and built on them in art class with the help of art teacher Ben Mackenzie and iNature teacher Kim Benton. 
  • Erke and Moore divided the tunnel into panels and created scenes that incorporated the students’ ideas and drawings.
  • Work on the tunnel started in mid-August with a coat of primer.
  • Erke and Moore began by painting each panel in broad strokes.
  • The students started work in mid-September, each class coming down to the tunnel during art class. Erke and Moore gave direction, students donned paint shirts, and—with the oversight of parent volunteers—students added outlines and highlights to bring the details to life.
  • After three weeks of student help, Erke and Moore will add the final touches to complete the mural. They hope to finish in October before it’s too cold to paint, but it will depend on the weather.

“I’ve started to think about how my work can include community building and finding ways to collaborate,” said Moore. “So this is a really fulfilling project because I’m collaborating with Meg and the students and so many others.”

Mural unveiling: An official event to celebrate the mural will be held on Friday, October 7 at 5 p.m. as part of Garlough’s annual Hoot Hike fundraiser.

  • “I learned so much through this project,” said Moore. “I was able to bring my true skill but also learn on the job, which is my favorite way to learn.”

What about graffiti? Murals tend to discourage graffiti, so that’s one of the reasons for doing the project in the first place. Also, an anti-graffiti coating will be added at the completion of the project. That makes any potential graffiti easier to remove without damaging the mural.

A Mural in Progress: Watch the Evolution


  • $50,000 project budget, half from the Dakota County Public Arts Citizen Advisory Committee and half from the Dakota County park improvement fund for Greenway enhancement.
  • 400 hours of painting between Erke and Moore (not including student work, planning, drawing, etc.)
  • 3,840 square feet: Approximate surface area of the mural.
  • 300 students (rough number of students involved)

“This project has been an honor and a privilege and a heck of a lot of fun,” Erke said.

More Local Art?

  • The Charlton tunnel mural is a pilot project for Dakota County. If it goes well, they’ll expand to other tunnels on the Greenway.
  • This is the second proposed mural project at a school in West St. Paul, with Moreland working to raise funds for their mural.

Support neighborhood news supported by neighbors. Membership starts at just $3 per month or pay annually and save 5%.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s