MN Nature and MNDOT joined in a Community Roadside Partnership land restoration project in 2014. The restoration site is in the historic Little Bohemia Neighborhood of St. Paul, MN.
How It All Started
Since 2013, Little Bohemia resident and MN Nature founder Jen Gehlhar has been educating and motivating the community to transform this unused, blighted piece of land into a vibrant urban community green space that welcomes pollinators, birds, and other wildlife along the Mississippi River bluffs of St. Paul.
35e Bike Path Caretakers
The bike path was added to the south side of 35e more than 40 years ago when the freeway was designed to go through the neighborhood. Since then it has been cared for by neighbors who regularly walk the path picking up trash and planting hostas or other plants to help beautify areas near their homes. But it has always been a source of safety concern and some neighbors refused to use the path because of this.
Little Bohemia Neighborhood Is Formed
Around 2011 a neighborhood group formed in the area around the bike path. They received grants to add benches, a sign, exercise equipment, and planters along the bike path in a place they designated as “Pleasant Place” (it could not be called a “park” because it is not City Park & Rec property). But they were unsure who owned the property and didn’t have conservation assurance for future generations to enjoy.
MN Nature, the Neighborhood and Volunteers Conserve the Green Space
In 2013 MN Nature stepped in to help preserve the land and transform it into an asset for the entire community. A formal City Resolution and maintenance agreement is signed by Little Bohemia Neighborhood and the City of St Paul to direct usage activities and manage the State DoT land. There is an active Adopt-a-Garden program to help maintain the various gardens along the bike path.
Little Bohemia Trail Is Formed
MN Nature’s efforts have resulted in the 1+ mile trail that is now called “Little Bohemia Trail” and includes an environmental education Tree Trek and interpretive sign at the trail head near Smith/Grand Ave (as part of a Pollution Control Agency grant). The trail includes an informative Tree Trek, three distinct “biome” educational areas (urban garden, pollinator hill, and urban forest) Lighting a newly paved path was achieved in 2017 (with complementary City CIB funds). Ongoing activities are planned for the site, both for the community and environmental education. Over 2,000 trees, plants, and shrubs have been planted and are maintained by volunteers to:
  • Beautify the Area
  • Reduce Run-Off
  • Prevent Erosion
  • Provide Habitat for Pollinators and Other Wildlife
  • Reduce Freeway Noise and Pollution
  • Increase Property Value
  • Reduce Crime
  • Foster Community

* * *

The Story . . .

What is Little Bohemia Trail?

This MN Nature-initiated project has turned a blighted mostly unused green space in a historic community in St Paul into a thriving urban green space that is home to pollinators, birds, bats, snakes, squirrels, red fox, coyotes, and even deer! It started in 2013 with grant applications, and the final official planting day is scheduled for fall of 2018. But the community green space will thrive for years to come due to the neighborhood’s overwhelming love and appreciation of the outdoors, trees, and gardens.

Prior to MN Nature’s involvement in 2013, the neighborhood accepted grants and donations to add workout equipment, 3 benches, 3 planters, a garbage can, and a sign designating the green space near the school as Pleasant Place. MN Nature was involved in discussions for those early projects, but …

MN Nature was seeking greater conservation goals for the area and wanted to transform the area into a true asset for the region’s wildlife and people as a way to serve and give back to the community, and in memory of MN Nature founder’s mom who lived off the bike path, Shirely Mae Gehlhar (Jones). Shirley was a gardener and always dreamed of the bike path being a pollinator respite and safe place that she and others could enjoy.

The trail is made possible by #MNnature, #MNPCA, #LittleBohemiaNeighborhood, #STPaulForestry, #UofMForestry, #MNDOT and volunteers–like you!

Since conception, Thousands of plants, trees, and shrubs have been planted by volunteers. The plants were provided by MN Nature through funds donated by MNDOT’s Community Roadside Partnership program, grants from the Pollution Control Agency, generous donations from St Paul Parks & Rec, St Paul Forestry, and the U of M Forestry Department. MN Nature accepted the funds and managed the project from start to end, including enlisting Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association as the official neighborhood partner via signed resolution with the City to maintain the land (this is how the Community Roadside Partnership program works with MNDOT–they, as a state agency, own the land but give maintenance authority over to neighborhood communities to improve it. The City must sign a resolution to agree to the partnership within their city. MN Nature’s Community Roadside Parternship for Little Bohemia Trail is the largest such in the state. Learn more at MNDOT’s website.)

In 2017, due to the great improvements of the land and the neighborhood’s ongoing support of the area, the City of St Paul’s Capitol Improvement Project awarded Little Bohemia Trail funds to resurface the bike path, add lights, and improve cross walks along the trail.

The entire project was initiated by MN Nature but would not have been possible without the Neighborhood volunteer support and advocating, the City’s support, the State MNDOT’s support, and many, many individuals along the way who saw the vision and supported the goals along the way–including Tony Wotzka, Gary Johnson, Cy Kosel, Bret Stadsvold, Jennifer Gehlhar, DeWayne Jones, Eriks Ludins, Leben McCormick, Dustin Ellis, Paul Moss, and others.


Project Activities History

Name: Community Roadside Partnership, Capitol Improvement

Date: 2017

Construction Improvement Year. Planting and landscaping activities on hold this year to accommodate for newly paved trail, new lights, and new cross walks being add along the trail.
Date: 2017
Location: MNDoT Right-of-Way (ROW) Western to Harrison/Goodrich, St. Paul’s West End/W7th Neighborhood

August 2017: New paved trail! New lights!



Name: Community Roadside Partnership, Phase 2
Phase 2:
Western to Harrison/Goodrich: Pollinator Restoration Hillside, 2016
Date: 2016
MNDoT Right-of-Way (ROW) Western to Harrison/Goodrich, St. Paul’s West End/W7th Neighborhood

Nov: Winter Prep
Volunteers will prepare garden beds and trees for winter. Remove water bags, wrap and plastic protection for trunks.

July 2016

• Community members installed strings for hops to climb up wall

• Community members continue to distribute mulch and water site

June 2016

• Conservation Corp in collaboration with the Pollution Control Agency and MN Nature prepped phase 2 planting site

• Volunteers and community members planted phase 2 planting site

April–May 2016: Spring Prep & Clean-up Days
Community will prep perennial beds in phase 1 for 2016 growing season. Volunteers will maintain the plantings in phases 1 & 2, activity days TBD. “Like” MN Nature on Facebook for updates.

• Trail clean-up

• Trail weeding

March/April 2016
MNDoT will continue to remove/treat buckthorn, clear hillsides, repair sound walls, and make other improvements as needed in phases 1 and 2 and in preparation of the plantings in phases 2 and 3.

January 7, 2016
Little Bohemia neighborhood association (LBNA) had a kick-off design meeting for phase 2. In February, LBNA approved the design plans drafted by MNDOT.



Name: Community Roadside Partnership, Phase 1
Phase 1  (Area 1: Grand/Smith Ave to Western;  Area 2: near St. Claire, nearby alley)
Date: 2015
Location: MNDoT Right-of-Way (ROW) Grand Ave. to Western (and the area immediately near St. Clair), St. Paul’s West End/W7th Neighborhood

December 2015

• Little Bohemia reviewed and approved MNDOT’s plans for phase 2, created by Tony Wotzka.

• Little Bohemia approved MN Nature’s recommendation based on much community feedback to officially call the project and 35e Bike Path from St Claire Ave to Grand Ave: “Little Bohemia Trail”

November 2015

• MNDoT mowed hillsides to prep for 2016, phase 2, planting days. They also cut back weeds near Western.

• Volunteers prepped trees and shrubs for winter: removed water bags, wrapped trunks, installed plastic trunk protection.

• MNDoT and volunteers were on site to care for damaged trees, pruning and replanting.

September 2015

• Held two scheduled volunteer events in coordination with the neighborhood to weed and continue to spread mulch throughout the phase 1 area. St Paul forestry continues to water trees.

• MNDoT mowed hillsides to prep for 2016, phase 2, planting days. They also cut back weeds near Western.

• Volunteers prepped trees and shrubs for winter: removed water bags, wrapped trunks, installed plastic trunk protection.

• MNDoT and volunteers were on site to care for damaged trees, pruning and replanting.

August 2015

• Held two scheduled volunteer events in coordination with the neighborhood to weed and continue to spread mulch throughout the phase 1 area. St Paul forestry continues to water trees.

July 15, 2015

•Volunteers in the community pulled weeds along the phase 1 freeway wall and continue to spread mulch. Held two scheduled volunteer events in coordination with the neighborhood to weed and continue to spread mulch throughout the phase 1 area. St Paul forestry continues to water trees.

• MNDoT removed several tree limbs overhanging the path toward the St Clair end. They had a large bucket truck on the freeway side.

• MNDoT inspected the fenceline near cottages in response to a neighbor complaint of a downed branch. Removed branch.

• Wolf Ridge Environmental, the Pollution Control Agency, MN Nature, Green Corps, and a group of sixteen 14-year-olds convened on the bike path to learn about community urban forestry and the impact of trees. They then went door to door to educate the community on the 35e landscaping project and the benefits of trees, providing How to Plant a Tree brochure (DNR) and Roots in the City pamphlets to homeowners. Learn more.

• The MN Nature and the Little Bohemia neighborhood has started organizing community maintenance activities, with the goal of Little Bohemia taking over this function long-term. The first weeding and mulching event was organized, with 8 volunteers, and a good success. A second meet-up will be held July 25.

• St Paul Forestry continues to water trees and shrubs on a regular basis. Initial transplant shock is clearing and plants look good.

June 2015, Project site: Park-like Area (Phase 1)

• June 12 – Prep & Tree Planting Day, 4–7 p.m. Tree planting demo provided by TAP member and forester Rebecca Koetter. 20+ volunteers planted trees and shrubs as part of phase 1 design (Grand Ave to Western, and at the alley just before St Clair).
Volunteers accepted 960+ trees and plants from nursery trucks, inventoried/inspected trees and shrubs, dug holes, learned how to correctly plant trees according to the latest U of M Dept. of Forestry research (instructor and TAP member Rebecca Koetter, saws provided by Minnesota Tree Care Advocates), planted trees/shrubs in phase 1, areas 1 and 2. Landscape Designer Anthony Wotzka and MN Nature founder Jennifer Gehlhar led the event. Volunteer opportunities were open to all skill levels and experience and ages.

• June 13 – Planting Day Areas 1 and 2 of Phase 1, Event, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Opening Dakota prayer by Dakota speaker Bob Klanderud of Healing Minnesota Stories, then 30+ volunteers planted perennials, vines, shrubs and trees in phase 1 (Grand Ave to Western, and at the alley just before St Clair). Volunteers planted the remaining 960+ new trees, shrubs, and perennials in phase 1 per MNDoT’s landscape design plans. Arborist and TAP member Leben McCormick and St Paul Forester Dan Anderson led tree plantings. gardener Hollie Kilroy and Tree Care Advocate Paul Richtman and Citizen Pruner Peg Brown led perennial planting. Landscape Designer Anthony Wotzka and MN Nature founder Jennifer Gehlhar led the event. Volunteer opportunities were open to all skill levels, experience, and ages.

• Mulching event held. Tree bags added to newly planted trees.

June–October 2015
• The Forestry Dept. at St. Paul will water the new trees and shrubs. First watered June 15, 2015.

• Continued to spread mulch and put tree water bags on all new trees.

• St Paul Park n Rec Forestry Dept. starts watering trees and shrubs.

May 2015

• May 27 – MNDoT sprayed herbicide along the wall to remove weeds and invasive plants (Grand Ave to Western)

• May 24 – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency awarded MN Nature an environmental grant to build a park sign on property, create maps of the area, engage in community activities and environmental education and gather metrics of the impact of the roadside beautification project. More details to come!

• May 12 (approx.) – Invasive Control: MNDoT applied herbicide that will not persist in the ground to manage invasives along the sound wall.

• May 9 – About 15 volunteers transplanted 20+ day lilies and raked along the wall from Grand Ave to Western. About 8 truckloads of leaves and weeds were hauled to the compost site on St. Clair! We worked hard from 10–2 and it was a great day!

March 2015

• March 11 — St Paul Forestry has agreed to water Phase 1 plantings in 2015 with their water truck.

• March 1 — Revised landscape plans for phase 1 from MNDoT (more trees added).

• Entire Project Area — MnDOT Metro Maintenance is providing programmed pruning, tree removal, and general landscape maintenance along roughly 3,900 linear feet, or from St. Clair Ave to Grand Ave, of noise wall approximately 5–20 feet variable during the Winter/Spring of 2015. This will be like a once a 30-year type of maintenance project. They will be removing trees that may cause structural damage to the noise wall, or structural damage to the path. They are also going to be pruning any limbs from trees that may be a threat to the safety and welfare of trail users. They are also going to remove any scrub trees, or scrub limbs on trees to help beautify the trail corridor. Finally they are going to try and clear the large slopes of invasive and undesirable vegetation.

• Prep work completed by MNDoT crews (entire area, all phases): removed invasives (and employed treatments, where appropriate), structurally removed ash trees, removed dying trees and trees posing safety concerns, clear brush, burs, etc., and mow hillsides down in all three areas. They repaired sound walls and made other improvements in preparation of the landscaping.

New partners: Home Depot (financial contribution for landscaping tools).

February 2015

• Phase 1 MNDoT unable to find any definitive signs of EAB, but did notice heavy wood pecker activity, evidence of other bug boring activities, and some fungus and rotting. With the presence of EAB just west of I-35E and the existing pest activity occurring now MNDoT is recommending their complete removal to avoid any EAB issues down the road. They plan to plant at least 3 new trees in their place with this partnership.

• In addition, MNDoT is recommending the removal of 2 or 3 other trees on this block that have significant frost crack damage or damaged stems/limbs to prevent them from becoming a liability adjacent to the trail and play equipment. Again they’ll plan to plant new shade trees in their place with this project. There is also an area behind the park sign that they’ll recommend brush work that can be stump treated with herbicide to prevent suckering.

• Entire project area — MnDOT’s maintenance crew along with the tree pruning and removal crew begins clearing brush and some trees. Also cleaning up the vegetation along the entire corridor.

• Gehlhar received water options and costs from St Paul Public Works for long-term water resources throughout the project area.

January 2015

• Gehlhar explores new partners with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, DNR Forestry in the Schools, Journeys School. All interested in long-term maintenance and use of land for educational, scientific, and health studies.



Project Initiation

Date: December 2014

• Revised landscape plans (created by Tony Wotzka) provided from MNDoT for phase 1. Legal paperwork being drafted:

  • Certified Resolution (St. Paul)
  • Request for Cooperative Agreement (MnDOT)
  • Paul Agreement (MnDOT – St. Paul
  • Fully Executed Agreement (MnDOT – St. Paul)

November 2014

• MNDoT prepares landscape plans for phase 1. Little Bohemia residents review and offer feedback.

September 2014:

• Tony Wotzka and Gehlhar identify three major areas of project and create timeline of three years to reach goals:
Phase 1: Grand to Western “Pleasant Place/Journey’s school” (entrance to path at Grand/Smith):
Plant trees, shrubs, vines,  gardens May 2015.
Phase 2: Western to Duke “Prairie.” Plant shrubs, trees, native perennials 2016.
Phase 3. Duke to St. Claire “Wooded” (entrances to path at Duke, Michigan, and St. Claire):
invasive removal and plant trees, vines/hops 2017

August 2014

• Application for CRP accepted. Green light on the landscape improvement project from MNDoT!

July 2014

• Minnesota Tree Care Advisors hold first citizen pruner certification course in St Paul. Several community members from West 7th attend.

June 2014

• Gehlhar works with Tony Wotzka at MNDoT and files application for CRP filed with MNDoT. Major partners identified: City of St Paul and Little Bohemia Neighborhood Group. Other potential partners include MN Master Naturalists, Citizen Pruners, MN Tree Care Advisors.

Per application:
“Initiated by Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association (LBNA) resident and MNTCA Jennifer Gehlhar (in discussion with Brett Stadsvold of City Forestry and Dave Hanson of MNDoT, then Eriks Lundins at Public Works). Supported and approved by LBNA (little and area residents, including the LBNA Gardening Committee, the nearby school Journeys, the greater West 7th Fort Road Federation, City Forestry, and TAP. Approval process via LBNA monthly meetings.”

April 2014

• Gehlhar connects with St Paul Public Works and MNDoT’s Community Roadside Partnership (CRP) Program. Several community organization partners explored, including Little Bohemia Neighborhood Group.

March 2014

• Gehlhar looks into greater conservation assurance or commitment from MNDOT for Pleasant Place, or in the least an open/official agreement in writing, for easement/usage of the land along 35E, which includes Pleasant Place, that would allow the neighborhood greater community involvement in the management and ongoing use of the land without the concern of the land being diverted for other uses.

Feb. 2014

• Ongoing educational resources explored, including initiating the Citizen Pruner program in St. Paul in coordination with Minnesota Tree Care Advocates.





Community Engagement & Education

Date: October 2013

• Gehlhar coordinates with Bret Stadsvold to remove several decaying trees from Pleasant Place area (@ Garfield and Harrison).

June 2013

• MN Nature founder and LBNA resident Jen Gehlhar and volunteers complete tree inventory in Little Bohemia neighborhood as a community educational activity on the value of trees. Identified conservation needs of 35e bike path area from Smith/Grand Ave. to St. Clair Ave. Began search into who owns land and grants available for conservation/re-forestation.

May 2013

• MN Nature founder and Little Bohemia resident Jen Gehlhar presents “Boulevard Tree Recommendations” to Little Bohemia residents (drafted under the supervision of Gary Johnson and Valerie Price, MNTCA).