A view from the edgelands: Breck Woods

By Regan Golden McNerney

One evening last summer, I stepped out my front door to see a female deer dash down Doswell Hill and leap into the trees at the edge of Eustis Street.

In the dusk, the trees appeared to form a dense dark forest, quickly concealing the deer from view. In the daylight it is clear to see that these woods are only a few yards deep and about two blocks in length hemmed in by Highway 280 and the railyard.

This beautiful deer in the middle of the city was really startling and I immediately thought, where did she come from? My first guess: Breck Woods.

In the conversation about how and when to develop Breck Woods, the discussion has focused clearly on the site itself. This makes sense when thinking about the planning process and how it impacts the human inhabi­tants of our neighborhood. But the animals and birds that share this space with us do not experience Breck Woods in isolation.

Breck Woods is an anchor

Breck Woods anchors our neighborhood. This urban forest forms a green ring around Saint Anthony Park extending from Breck Woods to the green space along Eustis Street following the railroad tracks and the transitway all the way back around to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. These fragments of urban forests are stitched together by the movement of birds and animals between these green spaces.

This ring of urban forest plays an important role in making our neighborhood livable. This skinny strip of trees is a green scrim (or screen) concealing from view Highway 280, Cemstone Concrete supplier, Hawkins chemical manufacturer and long lines of tanker cars in the railyard. Imagine life without this ring of trees and think about what the view would be from the baseball dia­mond at Langford Park or the top of the hill at Hendon Avenue. This isn’t just an aesthetic issue, although I think that is important; these trees also filter pollutants out of our air. 

The conversation and excitement about protecting Breck Woods is a great starting point for a larger dialogue about how to protect the urban forest that plays such a vital role in our neighborhood.

It is easy not to see these green spaces as anything more than patches of overgrown weeds where people sometimes pitch an old sofa or a busted tire. In a way these spaces are doing the job they were designed to do if they simply blend into the background and obscure the surrounding industrial spaces from view.  If we envision this space as one forest made up of a ring of fragments, perhaps that would shift the discussion about how and when to develop Breck Woods.

Regan Golden-McNerney is a professional artist, photographer and college lecturer who lives in St. Anthony Park. 

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