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A private contractor drove "spud" poles this week into the St. Croix riverbed at Hudson, Wis., to start construction on a new public dock some 670 feet in length — perhaps the largest on the St. Croix River.

The dock has been envisioned by city staff for years, said Hudson Mayor Rich O'Connor, who campaigned on the idea of more riverfront access when he first ran for office in 2016.

"It's the biggest and longest on the St. Croix," O'Connor said. The city envisions the 8-foot-wide dock serving visiting boaters, people who want to wet a fishing line or walkers who want to get close to the St. Croix.

"I have an affinity for the river," O'Connor said, "and we just never had really good access in the city, as a river city, for people coming in to take advantage of what we have to offer."

The dock cost $1.2 million. A $391,204 state Department of Natural Resources grant will cover a portion of the cost, with the remainder coming from revenue collected through the tax-increment financing district that covers downtown Hudson. The TIF district funds must be spent in the district itself, O'Connor said.

"We want people to know that they're not being taxed for this," he said. The Lunda Construction Co. was chosen for the project last July.

The dock runs 670 feet along the city's Lakefront Park, connecting an existing concrete stairway with the new boat launch. Gangways at either end make it accessible for wheelchair users. Bump-outs along the dock's edge make it possible for people to fish without holding up pedestrian traffic. Boats can tie-up along the dock for free, but not overnight, O'Connor said.

The dock will float with the river levels, and the city expects to leave it in the water year-round. Efforts by staff at the Departments of Natural Resources in Minnesota and Wisconsin were unable to immediately verify the dock's standing as the longest on the St. Croix.

The public dock will make it possible for people to visit Hudson by boat without needing to have their own slip or mooring area, a big demand each summer, said Tyler Warwick-Mick, the events and marketing coordinator for the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau. "A lot of people do call, and they ask, 'Where can I park my boat?' So this is a really great opportunity for people to park right here and just hop off and walk a block or two."

The dock's installation began months ahead of time thanks to the freakishly warm weather that's settled over the region. O'Connor said the city expected it would have to wait to begin construction until early June, after fish spawning season. The warm temperatures and open water along the city's Lakefront Park made it possible to start now and finish before the three-month period starting March 6 when the DNR restricts riverfront development to protect spawning fish.

The boardwalk project is one piece of the city's larger waterfront vision first drafted in 2017, one that calls for more pedestrian walkways, docks for sailboat owners and rowers, a general purpose building at the end of the city's dike road and other improvements along the riverfront. The first major piece of the vision, a new boat launch, was completed last summer.

"It's one at a time as grants become available," said Mike Johnson, Hudson's interim city administrator. At the time it was approved in 2018, the waterfront vision project was estimated to be completed over the course of 10 to 15 years.

Ed Freer, the Madison-based landscape architect who was among the early designers of the city's waterfront vision, said he was glad to hear that the project was moving forward.

"It's a fabulous waterfront," he said. "I think when you responsibly create waterfront access for the community and visitors, it really helps elevate the awareness of such an important natural resource."