Dakota County working to improve Thompson Park

courtesy of Dakota County Dakota County is looking at two master plan concepts for Thompson Park in West St. Paul. Senior county planner Lil Leatham said it won’t be one concept over the other, but rather aspects from each concept will be taken and used to create a preferred plan that should be complete by the end of the year.

Thompson County Park in West St. Paul is on its way to getting a facelift. Work is currently being done to update the master plan for the 57-acre park located off Butler Avenue, with the goal of giving park users what they want.


A new master plan

Lil Leatham, a senior planner at the Dakota County Office of Planning, said work began last summer on developing the new master plan, which was last updated in 2005.

“We try to update our plans every 10 years to make sure they reflect current recreation trends and what people in the community want from their parks,” she said.

Updating the plan includes developing a natural resource master plan, which will be a first for the park. Leatham said it will include details on how to restore the natural areas.

Thompson was established as a county park in 1976, and Leatham said Dakota Lodge was built there in the early 2000s, while the north picnic shelter was updated about 10 years later. 

There is currently a project going on to improve the water quality of Thompson Lake, which is anticipated to be complete this spring. Leatham said this should improve the water quality enough for people to wade or boat on it — she said the county still doesn’t suggest people swim in it, even after the water quality work is done.

Planners are also looking at creating more community gathering spaces. Currently, there are some event spaces, but Leatham said they are reserved much of the time, adding there aren’t a lot of picnic spaces for walk-up use.

There is also a large section of the park many people may not know about. With the master plan update, Leatham said a big theme is getting folks into the 30-acre southern portion of the park. When people show up for an event at Dakota Lodge, they can be unaware more than half the park is right outside it.

“Inviting people to that space is one of the things we’re looking at,” she said.


Providing new amenities

Last summer, the county reached out to area residents to learn how the community uses the park and what things needed improvement

From that input, two concepts were created. Leatham said the county isn’t deciding between one concept or the other. Rather, the hope is to generate thinking about what the community wanted to see. The best elements from the two concepts will be put together into the preferred plan this spring.

Concept A includes leaving 83 percent of the park as natural space. Included are 38 acres of natural resource restoration, which would create 12 acres of savanna, 11 acres of oak forest and three acres for restoration showcase. There would also be shoreline restoration on Thompson Lake.

With the work done to clean up the lake, Concept A proposes a second fishing pier and paddle access. Other items proposed are an inclusive natural playground, three miles of paved trails and a Simon’s Ravine overlook. 

Concept B is similar, but has 79 percent of the park remaining natural space and 35 acres of restoration. 

The concept has a new farmstead-use area with an interpretive playground, observation tower and picnic grounds. A pollinator promenade is included in Concept B as well.

Both concepts also has items for winter use, such as a sledding hill and snowshoeing.

Leatham said the promenade is a trail that will follow a new stream made by taking water currently piped underground between Thompson Lake and Emerson Pond and bringing it above ground. The county will plant native flower species along the trail that attract pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Both concepts look at adding more community gathering space in the form of picnic shelters and an amphitheater. 


Community feedback

On Feb. 11, the county held an open house at Thompson Park for residents and parkgoers to look at the proposed concepts and give their feedback.

Isaac Contreras, who lives in South St. Paul, said while he doesn’t have any problems with the current park, he likes the features the concepts bring up. 

“I think the whole idea of trying to bring more folks in seems to be the main focus,” he said. “I like that.”

Contreras added he likes that the designs aren’t sticking to just one focus, but rather looking at natural resources, social gathering and access to different parts of the lake and park. He said he likes the water feature and stream in Concept B, as well as the new pier on the other side of the lake. 

“For folks that aren’t quite as brave or bold to just walk into the forest, something like this that they can follow, they can see the advantage of that and using the water feature is pretty cool,” Contreras said.

Morgan Kavanaugh, who is the chair of the West St. Paul Planning Commission, said he lives near the park so he and his family are there all the time.

Kavanaugh has participated in past park and lake cleanups because the “water quality was terrible and there was a lot of garbage.” He said it seems the county is trying to address those issues, and that a great aspect of both concepts is making Thompson Lake more useable. 

“It’s good to see the county putting money into West St. Paul,” said Kavanaugh, adding he was concerned that the plans include more parking, which would come by paving over parkland. 

He said he is a big fan of the inclusive, natural playground, which is something his kids love. He added a lighted sledding hill would be another nice option to have nearby, since “we’re going to have snow for the rest of time.”

“Any time you can add a winter amenity and lighting and things like that, where you can use it at night, it’s going to be really nice,” Kavanaugh said.

An online survey to view the concepts and give feedback can be found by visiting www.dakotacounty.us and searching “Thompson master plan.” 

The survey is open through Feb. 28, and Leatham said the hope is to have the updated master plan completed by the end of this year. 


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburligname@lillienews.com.

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