It’s surprising how fast nature starts reclaiming an area.
On the stretch of the Judson Bottom Road closest to North Mankato, vegetation has emerged through cracks in the pavement. Long grasses on the sides of the road bend into the lane.
And then there are the boulders, limbs and debris littering the roadway, which has kept the mile-long stretch closed since early spring.
The route has always had sentimental and historical connections for people in the area. One colorful piece of the past includes a notorious bootlegging woman, Belle Born, who used the Bottom Road as a point for delivering hooch. The booze was stored in a cave behind her home and then sent onto the black market.
A story by by Steve Ulmen in the Blue Earth County Historian of 2010, called “The Shady Lady from South Bend,” said the bootleg booze was transported across the river by boat, with men on the Bottom Road and the other side of the river signalling each other with flashlights.
The road is a favorite route for bicyclists or those out for a cruise in vehicles or motorcycles. On a bicycle, the narrow path with no shoulders always leaves you wondering whether approaching vehicles are going to see you.
But now, biking down the road is the picture of solitude.
The sounds of birds and quiet churning of the river are clear amid the silence. You can coast down the center of the road without fear, other than maneuvering around limestone chunks and some boulders the size of small sedans.
The city of North Mankato is deciding what to do with the stretch of road, whether to leave it closed for safety, try some modest safety improvements, or reopen it.
You don’t need to be a geologist to know that rock slides and boulder-tumbling will continue on the Bottom Road. As large slabs have fallen down, massive rock formations cantilever out over the voids that remain.
The chance of anyone in a car, riding a bike or on foot actually being hit by falling rock is very remote, but if you’re driving 30 mph or more, especially in the dark, hitting boulders that have already fallen is a real possibility. Hitting one on foot or bicycle is unlikely.
Those who’ve been using the road this summer on foot or bike have waged a graffiti street-writing campaign for the stretch to be turned into a bike path.
On several spots people have used chalk to scrawl messages in support of keeping the section closed to vehicles but opened to bikes and walkers.
And in a nice touch, one visitor drew a chalk outline around the skeletal remains of a raccoon on the road, with the words “The Last Road Kill. Make it So.”
There are no homes or driveways on the stretch of closed roads, with residents further down the road having to come in different ways, including down County Road 41.
The city could capitalize on a bike/pedestrian roadway. During all the Belgrade Avenue events, small trolleys could pull people down the scenic lane or other small summer events could be held there. It’d be a interesting cross country ski route in the winter.
There are calls from some who live on the road to reopen it to vehicles, as the city works with consultants to assess the extent of the problems and dangers along the road.
Those pushing for it to reopen to vehicles will likely prevail.
Still, it’d be a unique bike/walking path. I know of at least one raccoon who would have been all for it.
Tim Krohn can be contacted at email@example.com or 344-6383.