River Learning Center | FAQ

photo by: Erin D. Carter

What is the River Learning Center?
The River Learning Center will be a statewide and national asset, serving as the gateway to the Mississippi River and welcoming residents and visitors to the Mississippi River’s only dedicated national park. Located at the Crosby Farm Regional Park, the River Learning Center will feature year-round programming that honors, promotes stewardship, and teaches the culture, history, and ecology of the river.

When will the River Learning Center open?
The Great River Passage is expected to launch schematic design for the River Learning Center in late 2020. This process will develop the vision, timeline, budget and finance strategy.

How much will the building cost? How will it be funded?
The estimated cost of the building will be determined through the schematic design process. The project will be funded by public and private dollars. The City of Saint Paul is seeking $3 million in bonding to complete full design, site evaluation and site preparation for the River Learning Center. Rent from the National Park Service will provide a guaranteed base of funding for the project.

Who will own the River Learning Center? How will it be managed?
The River Learning Center will be owned by the City of Saint Paul, with the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area as the primary entity leasing space. The organizational structure for long-term maintenance and operations will be determined through a cooperative management agreement after schematic design is complete.

What is the federal government’s role in this project?
The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, with approval from its Washington and Regional offices, has signed a Partnership Agreement with the City of Saint Paul demonstrating its commitment to this project. Following schematic design, the National Park Service and City will sign a cooperative management agreement for a long-term lease agreement. Representative Betty McCollum, who chairs the House Interior-Environment Subcommittee, is a strong proponent and advocate for this project.

What programming will be offered at the site?
The River Learning Center will have year-round programming that honors, promotes stewardship of and connects people to the culture, history and ecology of the river and the surrounding forest. Programs will be rooted in authentic hands-on experiences to learn from and enjoy the river. A variety of partner organizations will offer programming at the site, from recreational activities like boating to lessons about the geologic and glacial history of this site to excursions to the many historic sites nearby.

How will the building and programming be accessible to the community?
People of all backgrounds and abilities should be able to access the river, and we will strive to accomplish this at the River Learning Center. All buildings constructed are required to be ADA accessible, and a variety of programming will be offered to ensure that opportunities exist for everyone. We will also be examining the best ways to connect this learning center to existing and future transit.

What community engagement has occurred so far on this project? Will there be more opportunities to engage in the process?
The River Learning Center was first envisioned in the Great River Passage Master Plan, which was adopted by the Saint Paul City Council in 2013. Significant community input was conducted as part of the planning process. The City of Saint Paul and National Park Service recognize that additional community input is essential, and this will occur during the schematic design process.

How are you working with tribes to protect this culturally significant area?
The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers is significant to Dakota people. We have begun discussing this project with the Dakota tribes, and we will continue to work directly with Native American communities to ensure this project respects the land’s history and significance to them.

We recognize our responsibility and look forward to working with Native American communities to understand and evaluate the site from their cultural perspective. Anything related to the land and its significance to Native Americans will be managed and communicated through a formal consultation process with Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and tribal partners.

What are you doing to protect the building from floods?
While most of Crosby Farm Regional Park lies within a floodplain, the proposed location for the River Learning Center will be situated well above the floodplain. The city-owned project will be going through schematic design once funds are secured. During that process an interdisciplinary team of designers, hydrologists and other experts will analyze the landscape, paying special attention to the floodplain, and make final recommendations for the location of the building as well as the type of structure and landscape features to respond to the changing nature of the river. The schematic design process will include robust community engagement.

What is going to happen to the Watergate Marina and the people who live there?
Watergate Marina’s contract expires at the end of 2021, and the City is in discussions with marina management. Current plans for the River Learning Center include a marina.