One of Saint Paul’s and the Twin Cities’ most frequented green spaces is the award-winning Harriet Island Regional Park. The ‘island’, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River not far from downtown Saint Paul, is home to a number of facilities, including the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion, a 5,000 square foot event space available for use year-round.
Many city events take place in Harriet Island Regional Park. In the shade of the towering cottonwoods and silver maples that line the Mississippi River, visitors can look across the water to downtown Saint Paul. A public pier, marina, and the Padelford Riverboats can all be found on Harriet Island.
The pioneer educator Harriet Bishop inspired the island’s namesake. Dr. Justus Ohage, wanting to give back to the people of St. Paul by creating a public park, donated Harriet Island to the city in the year 1900. There were many things to do on Harriet Island, back then, including swimming lessons, slides, water games, a full outdoor gymnasium and the first zoo in St. Paul.
In the years before air conditioning, thousands of people flocked to the Mississippi River to cool down at Harriet Island’s bathing beach, which operated from 1910 to 1915. As the river became more polluted, it was only natural that fewer people wanted to spend time at the beach.
To improve access to Harriet Island from the Wabasha Street Bridge’s southern terminus, an entrance was built in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the park’s prime has long since past. Despite its convenient position in the middle of the Twin Cities, the Harriet Island Public Park was underutilized. Around the island, a broad highway was constructed, and trees and bushes were planted. The start of the slump, however, stymied future growth.
The island’s name honors its former position as an island even though the waterway connecting it to the mainland was filled in the 1950s.
Harriet Island expansion plans were revisited in 1969. At the time, the concept was shot down because river pollution made the area unattractive to tourists. However, the park has seen a resurgence in popularity as a result of the improved water quality, and it is now widely considered to be among the best in all of Saint Paul.
Reservations for the pavilion or any of the island’s other facilities are not accepted by the National Park Service; make your reservations at Saint Paul’s City Hall.
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