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A new entrance road, trails, parking and restrooms -- amenities needed to truly open a park to the public -- will be built this year at Heritage Village Park, home of the swing bridge pier on the Mississippi River in Inver Grove Heights.

The pier -- created from parts of the historic Rock Island Swing Bridge -- juts 670 feet out into the river but can't be seen from its street approach on 66th Street off Concord Boulevard.

The area lacks signs and parking, and those unfamiliar with the area could have a difficult time finding it.

After spending $2.4 million to save part of the bridge as the pier, officials are counting on the repaved street, trails, restroom and parking lot to turn the pier and park into a magnet for visitors.

"It should attract a large audience of trail users that would drive to that location, park their cars, get their bikes out, go visit the pier and then travel on their bikes on the trail," said Dakota County Board Chairwoman Nancy Schouweiler.

With restrooms and with 25 to 50 parking spaces, the park will become a trailhead for the county's new Mississippi River Regional Trail, which is nearing completion between South St. Paul and Hastings.

The county will pay to build the restroom building, then own and operate it in the city park. As the information center for the trailhead, the restroom building will have a map of the trail with information on places to stop for water, picnic tables and restrooms.

The city and county have yet to agree on a design motif for the restroom and a future picnic shelter and multipurpose building.

After reviewing the plans in January, Dakota County Board members questioned both the design and the $268,800 preliminary estimate for the restroom.

A refined design and estimate for the building is to be presented to a county committee on Feb. 21.

The city's long-range vision for the park is as a place where residents could learn about the history of the city.

An old schoolhouse and city hall building may be moved there someday.

Because trains used the old swing bridge and a railroad depot once stood on the site of the park, the city proposed a railroad depot architectural theme for the restroom, picnic shelter and multi purpose building, said park and recreation director Eric Carlson.

The city hopes the park improvements will nudge redevelopment of both housing and business in the area, with people using the park and trail supporting the businesses.

"It's really going to change the area and be a positive improvement in the community," Carlson said.

But if the initial improvements do not make the park a popular spot, the city may hesitate about paying for more, Carlson said.

Repaving 66th Street is set to start April 23 and to finish by the end of June, said city engineer Tom Kaldunski.

The street repaving will stretch about a quarter mile from Concord and end at a 650-foot trail that will lead up to the pier.

The street's history goes back almost 100 years, Kaldunski said. "This road used to be a county road and it was the road that led up to the swing bridge."

The double-decker bridge carried trains on top and cars on the bottom between Dakota and Washington counties.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287