Lake Phalen is a large urban lake located in the Saint Paul suburb of Maplewood and the centerpiece of the 494-acre Phalen Regional Park. The lake takes its name from Edward Phalen, an early Irish settler of Saint Paul, although he never lived near the lake. Lake Phalen has a 23-square-mile watershed and drains into the Mississippi River after traveling through Phalen Creek. Beginning in 1869, until 1913, the lake was used as Saint Paul’s primary water source.
The lake and surrounding park are popular destinations for boating, sailing, swimming, biking, hiking, picnicking, barbecuing, and golf. The park also features an amphitheater, baseball & softball fields, a soccer field, a hockey rink, tennis courts, and cross-country ski trails. Together, the lake and regional park receive around a half million visitors annually. The lake is stocked with walleyes every other year and tiger muskies every three years, making it one of the Twin Cities’ most popular fishing lakes. In addition, it is naturally home to northern pike, largemouth bass, crappie, and sunfish. Unusually, it is also home to the rainbow darter, first found in 1996, which normally live in fast-moving streams.
Unfortunately during the early 20th century, the almost constant dredging of the lake in order to remove vegetation and sediment, combined with the filling in of surrounding wetland areas to create lawn space and the installation of riprap around half of the lake, resulted in severe erosion of the shoreline. Finally, in 2001 the lake began a five-year shoreline restoration program, which converted a majority of the riprap to natural vegetation, which increased from 28% to 74% as a result.
The Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, working with the department of Saint Paul Parks & Recreation and two architects from Changsha, St. Paul’s sister-city in China since 1988, also are developing the first Changsha-style Chinese garden in the U.S. within the park. Once complete, the garden will feature an open-air pavilion (known as the Xiang Jiang Pavilion, completed in 2018), a lakeside pavilion with a waterside patio and veranda, an entrance arch (completed in 2019), an arched bridge, and a stone garden. There will also be a Hmong Cultural Plaza, an important element since Minnesota Hmongs, who have a large community in the area, also claim Changsha as their ancestral home. Phase I, it is hoped, will be completed in 2021.
- Visited: Early 2000s (Lake Phalen)