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What remains of the east side of the Wood Lake Nature Center’s boardwalk is off-limits to walkers until the walk is reconstructed. Richfield city staff members say the reconstruction will take place in January or February 2020, with the opening expected in the spring next year.

But the opportunity to build a new and improved walk now on the horizon

Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Wood Lake Nature Center have come to understand the importance of the center and the role it plays in the environmental landscape within Richfield and the metro area.

One of the most iconic and visible aspects of the center is the boardwalk that stretches 680 feet across the water and allows visitors to get up-close and personal with nature.

However, Mother Nature didn’t treat the aging boardwalk so well last winter and early spring as wind and high waters, as well as the effects of time, led to damage that left the center without one of its most important focal points.

Richfield Recreation Services Director Amy Markle said that despite the loss of the former boardwalk, the opportunities to design and build a new and improved boardwalk is where staff members at the center now aim their focus.

Last fall, it became apparent to center staff members that the boardwalk was, at a minimum, in need of alignment. The work to do so was scheduled to be completed this past spring.

”Ironically, ... we had it set for public works crews to help realign it and literally the day before that work was scheduled, the windstorm hit,” Markle said. “Maybe it was nature’s way of saying it was time to start new,” she added.

The high winds of April, the high level of water and the movement of cattail islands are what led to the demise of the boardwalk.

“It wasn’t so much the ice,” Markle said. “In this instance, the boardwalk kind of floated away ... it was more of a wind and water event. Ice definitely can be tough on these, but what happened was ... the water and wind was lifting the spud poles that align it and then with the wind blowing the cattail islands ... it blew the islands right up against the boardwalk ... and pushed it across the swamp and it got crushed between islands.”

As an ecosystem that is always in flux, the way it affected the boardwalk was not a surprise to Markle.

“The boardwalk reacts to the water and the wind, and it’s always changing. Unfortunately, the boardwalk got crushed.”

But there is a silver lining – the repairs that could end up costing close to a half-million dollars are being covered through the center’s insurance. But it’s also a project that’s going to take some time, so don’t expect to be traversing a new boardwalk yet this year.

“We’re going to divide the project into two phases,” Markle said. “The first phase will be removing and disposing of the existing boardwalk. We will recycle some of it and that process will be happening fairly quickly – definitely this summer.”

The city has already extended bids for the first phase that is expected to be completed by mid-September.

In the near future, bids for the reconstruction of the boardwalk will go out, but the work won’t be completed until this coming winter.

“With this type of project, the easiest way to construct it will be on the ice and having it done in sections,” Markle said. “It’s safer to build it on the ice. It will be constructed probably in early 2020 – January or February. Then when the ice melts in the spring, it will be dropped into place.”

The old boardwalk was at least 25 years in age and “was at the end of its life,” according to Markle. “It was definitely in need of repair – this just helped push things along.”

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The old boardwalk at the Wood Lake Nature Center will be removed yet this summer to make way for the new boardwalk that will be built on the ice this coming January or February.

Because the old boardwalk wasn’t up to ADA requirements, the new construction will be built to code and will be designed to provide access for all.

“It’s a pretty substantial project. We have to build it to last and because it’s on water we have to factor in materials that can withstand the constant weather elements. There is some new technology that can go into making a boardwalk that wasn’t available when the original was built. There are coiled spud poles that can move a little bit more with pressure on the boardwalk or rising water and wind. So there is a little more adaptability to the conditions. There are also different types of lumber that can be used to last a little longer out on the water. We’re definitely excited to move this project forward.”

As far as letting people know about the progress of the project, Markle said that over the coming months, city staff will provide updates on the city website and its social media accounts.

The importance of the boardwalk to the center has become even more evident this summer for staff.

“It’s definitely a key feature to Wood Lake and our whole park system,” Markle said. “This is used for visitors to get out into the system so they can understand what a marsh system looks like, what it sounds like and what it even feels like. We do a lot of our environmental classes related to water quality, watershed, and wetlands ... a lot of the education is done out there, so it is an important piece of our programming as well. We’re sad to be at a loss without it right now,” she added.

However, with the opportunity to build anew, Markle also said staff members are looking forward to having a new walk available to them and all visitors next year.

“We’re excited to have a new boardwalk in 2020,” Markle said.

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