Dear Mayor Cieslewicz,
Where did you like to play when you were a boy?
If you had the choice between a dirt access road and a mysterious forest with a tiny creek where you could float little boats you had made, I’m sure you would have chosen the latter. I know, because that’s where I played with my friends as a boy.
Known as “the ditch” by kids in the 1960s, today it is referred to as the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house next to those wild woods. For me and my sisters and our friends from the Sunset, Westmoreland, and Hoyt neighborhoods, it was a magical realm. We played up and down its length, hopping on stepping-stones, peering into the mysterious tunnel that ran under Owen Drive, looking for bugs and toads and anything else we could find. We floated twigs, leaves, and those little boats we had made down the creek that flowed after even a short rain.
Adults may have enjoyed having patios and decks that overlooked it, but we didn’t care about that. We went down into the ditch. It fed our imaginations and, even as adults, our dreams. It was the only bit of wilderness that we knew of at that young age. And it was literally in our backyard, there for any kid who wanted to play. Not play a videogame, not play with the latest plastic toys from the mall, not play at an arranged “play date.” Just play.
One of my strongest childhood memories is of building a little red boat with my father. Together we chiseled it and sanded it and painted it red. I floated it down the creek and it got away, floating through the grate at Midvale Boulevard. I cried a long time over that boat, learning a small lesson about life and loss. I know as an adult I wouldn’t have that precious memory if neighborhood planners had done then what they’re considering now and filling in the creek bed.
My mother still lives in the house on Hillcrest I grew up in. Last summer, I took my own little daughters down into the ditch for a look around. They had heard plenty of stories about it. Back home in Minneapolis, I helped a few other parents create a rain garden at my oldest girl’s school. If we’re going to preach “save the environment” to our children, we have to be ready to walk that talk.
So for the kids that used to live near the ditch, the kids that live there now, and the kids who will live there some day, please let this little slice of wild space remain.
With hope, Craig Miller, Minneapolis