The Vision for Lake Place Park

A Place by the Lake Part 2: The Plan & The Vision

By Kyle Chisholm – City Tour Program Coordinator

In my previous post I introduced Kent Worley – the landscape architect and champion of Lake Place Park which serves as a key connection between Canal Park and the Historic Arts & Theater (HART) District in Downtown Duluth. Kent earned his Landscape Architecture degree at Kansas State University in 1962. Five years later he finished is Masters degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan. That same year, he moved to Duluth where – in 1970 – the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) unveiled its long-anticipated plan for the I-35 expansion through Duluth. As Kent explained to me, “I found the plan vexing and disappointing.”

Kent Worley Lake Place Park

Kent Worley, landscape architect, stands along the railing at Lake Place Park in Duluth. Photo: Duluth News Tribune

Related: A Place by the Lake Part 1: Exploring Lake Place Park

The Original I-35 Plan

Many Duluthians know that MNDOT’s original plan routed the interstate expansion directly through Duluth. Under that plan, many historic structures and parks would have been lost (e.g., Leif Erikson Park and the Rose Garden, along with structures between The Pickwick and Harley Building).

Another major aspect of the plan that I hadn’t known about was the construction of a huge on/off ramp exchange located approximately where Lake Avenue crosses over the interstate today. The corner of the lake would have been filled in to accommodate some of this new construction along with a 20-foot wave return wall (imagine a candy cane shaped barrier) along the interstate’s edge.

If this plan had moved forward, we would have an interstate completely obstructing downtown views of Lake Superior and the Lake Place connection between Canal Park and Downtown Duluth would not exist. Needless to say, this would have irrevocably changed the nature of Duluth’s lakefront and, quite possibly, impacted future development in one of the most vibrant parts of town.

Original Plan for I-35 Expansion Duluth

An early rendition of the original plan for I-35 expansion. Photo courtesy of Kent Worley.

Luckily, Kent was determined enough to propose an alternative plan.

An Alternative Vision Emerges

Kent, determined to propose and alternative vision for the I-35 expansion, countered with a plan inspired by Seattle’s Freeway Park, a plan that included Lake Place and the shoreline Lakewalk that has become a major asset to our community.

With support from like-minded individuals backed by an enormous outpouring of advocacy, the interstate was eventually routed through a series of tunnels and shortened by about 40 city blocks. In the process, numerous historic sites were preserved and a blighted shoreline of scrapyards and rusty cars was replaced with the rock and earth moved to create the I-35 tunnels allowing for the creation of Duluth’s Lakewalk. The crowing jewel – Lake Place Park – was created on top of the tunnel system with the idea that it would provide a ‘lake place’ for the entire community to enjoy.

Duluth Lakewalk

Duluth’s Lakewalk is a major attraction for visitors and amazing asset for locals. Photo: The Duluth Experience.

Kent’s vision – and the project’s revised design – effectively expanded Duluth’s green space which is now considered vital to Duluth’s renaissance as an outdoor town and visitor destination. Interestingly, the project also fell in line with the original lakeshore plan pitched to the city in 1888 by William K. Rogers, president of the city’s first park board and initial developer of Skyline Parkway.

Today, thanks to Kent and his supporters, Duluth’s shoreline is accessible to millions of people who enjoy the Lakewalk and Lake Place Park each year for walking, snapping photographs, skipping rocks, and simply contemplating life on a bench.

The Story Continues: A Place by The Lake Part 3: The Future for Lake Place

Duluth Experience Border

Check out our Duluth City Tours if you’d like to learn more about Lake Place Park, The HART District and Canal Park history.

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