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From the Lake Phalen trail, I soon found my way to the the Bruce Vento Regional Trail. The trail is dedicated in memory of Bruce F. Vento, a DFLer (Democratic Farmer-Labor Party politician) who represented Minnesota’s 4th district In Congress from 1977 until his death in 2000. Vento was known for his efforts to clean up the environment, so a bike trail is a fitting memorial.

The boulder marking the entry to Joe Bergeron Pass on the Bruce Vento Regional Trail.

The first part of the trail that I discovered is now marked with a memorial to Maplewood police sergeant Joseph Bergeron, who was shot to death by a suspect on May 1, 2010. It’s a sad local reminder that tragedies large and small happen here as well as in places like Iraq or Haiti and that many (perhaps most) of them are caused by people, not Mother Nature. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., 222 police officers in Minnesota history have died on duty. My brief exploration of the list showed that it goes back to the nineteenth century. An early entry was Police Officer Daniel O’Connell of St. Paul, shot while investigating a burglary on Dayton Avenue on June 17, 1882. He had served one month on the force. Bergeron had served for 26 years.

The inscription on the memorial for Sgt. Joe Bergeron.

The Bergeron memorial boulder was dedicated on November 4, 2010, and marks the entrance to Joe Bergeron Pass, a portion of the Bruce Vento trail near where the officer was killed. From here you can enjoy the peace of the trail and head towards Maplewood, where the trail stops just north of I-694. You can also head south towards downtown St. Paul, a ride that I enjoyed several times last fall.

It’s interesting to get a new perspective on distances when you’re riding your bike instead of driving a car or even riding a bus. You can see why areas farther from downtown would have had to wait for streetcars before they could really be developed as part of the growing city. Of course the bike trails are much easier to travel on than the old roads used to be.

Heading towards downtown, the trail takes you through the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and Swede Hollow. It’s a beautiful, quiet spot – a real sanctuary near the bustle of East 7th Street. This ravine used to be the home of new immigrants – Swedes, then Italians, then Mexicans – attracted by the low $5 per month rental to be paid to the city. Here they were surrounded by others like themselves. Phalen Creek still ran above ground then and provided water for the inhabitants, but today just a pond is visible and the creek has been diverted underground. The Minnesota Historical Society has several photographs of the area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including this photo showing the houses (or shacks) in the Hollow in 1910. This photo clearly shows Phalen Creek in the 1910s before the creek was enclosed. It’s hard to recognize this as the same place I biked through last fall!

The pond in Swede Hollow.

By the 1950s, the population of Swede Hollow had fallen significantly and the city was no longer willing to have people living without electricity and running water. But once all the remaining structures in Swede Hollow were condemned in 1956, the inhabitants were moved out, and the remaining houses demolished and burned, as illustrated in this Minnesota Historical Society photo. The hollow then became a dumping ground for garbage and a refuge for the homeless. It was finally cleaned up in the 1970s and was designated as a nature center in 1976.

Today as you ride through the sanctuary you can almost forget that up above the ravine is a all the activity of a modern city. Instead, you see the remains of an earlier time in the abandoned Hamm Brewery buildings. Stop at East Side Regional Park and you can read panels recounting the settlement and industrial history of the East Side, including Swede Hollow.

 

The Bruce Vento trail and the old Hamm's Brewery buildings in Swede Hollow are just visible through the trees from Dayton's Bluff above the hollow.

Part of the old Hamm Brewery complex seen from the Bruce Vento trail.

From down in Swede Hollow, you have a lot of choices for where to head next. I chose Indian Mounds Regional Park, only 2.1 miles farther. But what a couple of miles they were! Stay tuned…

Where to go next? Just follow the sign.

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