Backyard Getaways: Coon Rapids Dam Parks
The parks on both sides of the Coon Rapids Dam offer free concerts, nature trails, and much more.
One park for each side of the river
“I think it’s just a great opportunity for people to come out here and have a cool recreational experience without having to plan a lot of activities,” said Andy Soltvedt of the Anoka County Park system. “You’re not packing up the car for the weekend and loading all your stuff.”
Half of the park is in Brooklyn Park and the other half is in Coon Rapids. The cities are split by the Mississippi River, but are connected by a dam.
“I do think it’s really a feather in the cap for these cities, both Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids,” Soltvedt said. “They have this access point.”
The park is an outdoor playground in the northern burbs.
“It’s a really good experience,” said Mohamed Yasin of Brooklyn Park. “The breeze. The air coming at you from the side. It’s beautiful.”
The park is paradise for nature lovers and it gets multi-modal use.
“You see the dog walkers, you see the bikers, you see the pedestrians,” Soltvedt said. “It’s really kind of a central hub here which gets people out of the neighborhood and it gets you into a nice unique peaceful environment.”
History and more on the Anoka side
On the Anoka County side of the mighty Mississippi there is plenty of history. Once upon a time ox carts were a form of transportation.
“There’s actually some sections with in the park,” Soltvedt said, “where you can still see the ruts from the old carts that go back and fourth through the trail.”
Bird watching is popular in this part of the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park because the Mississippi is a major fly way.
“They come through with their nice big lens cameras,” Soltvedt said, “and can get some really cool shots of the migrating water fowl that come up and down the river ways.”
Another park perk is free concerts. People gather on 10 Thursdays in the summer to hear music in a unique setting.
“Great activity, 7 p.m., sun’s kind of cooling down, bands are cranked up,” Soltvedt said. “It’s a lot of fun. You get a thousand plus people into the park.”
Nature abounds on Brooklyn Park side
On the Hennepin County side of the muddy Mississippi there is an abundance of wildlife and at the visitors center too. The park is soon to be called Mississippi Gateway Regional Park.
“We do have the luxury of having a great big fish tank here that shows some of the fish that can be in the river,” said Michelle Bierma from the Three Rivers Park District. “There’s a mirror carp here along with a couple of long-nosed gar.”
Turtles are on display and there are many different kinds to see.
“Painted turtle there,” Bierma said pointing to a nearby fish tank. “Really common. They’re found in almost every Minnesota lake, stream and river.”
One of the coolest parts of the visitors center is an elevated back porch.
“It’s a little bit like a tree fort because you’re really at the tree top level to see what’s going on,” Bierma said. “Great birding spot and just a good spot to come and relax and listen to the sounds of the park.”
From hummingbirds to wildflowers to spectacular sunsets, nature’s magic is everywhere.
“It’s a wonderful place to be down on the river,” Bierma said. “To see herons and egrets and different species of ducks and hear lots of little birds.”
The Coon Rapids Dam
At the center of the park is the historic Coon Rapids Dam.
“It’s well over 100 years old now,” Soltvedt said. “It’s one of the older dams on the Mississippi.”
The dam controls the power and fury of the nation’s most famous river.
“Fast,” said park-goer Victoria Bird. “Running. It controls the water. It’s just very flowing. It’s excitement.”
“To be literally right on top of the Mississippi,” Soltvedt said, “you kind of feel that power of the water going underneath you and hearing those waves crash.”
The Hennepin County side of the park is 160 acres in size and has over two miles of trails along the river banks.