As winter turns to spring and spring to summer, my thoughts wander to summer travel plans and new adventures. Whether it's flying to a new exotic place far far away, taking a stay-cation to enjoy those often overlooked local treasures, or heading out on a classic road trip in the family station wagon, I often look for ways to make my travels more sustainable. Yes, you can purchase carbon offsets to match your air miles and reduce your greenhouse gas footprint. Sure, you can reuse your hotel towels or take along a Nalgene bottle or Klean Kanteen. And of course putting your house lights on a timer will conserve some energy, but I don't want to nibble at the margins: I want a vacation that weaves sustainability into the big everyday choices that I make - where I eat, where I sleep, where I play and how I get around.
Urban destinations often provide the ingredients for such a travel destination. Minneapolis is one place where urban and sustainability merge in a beautiful way, creating a quilt of neighborhoods immersed in the beauty of lakes, nature, bicycle paths and the mighty Mississippi River. Long lauded as great place to live and raise a family, the City also has a long history of progressive thinking and a world-renowned park system. Increasingly Minneapolis is also focusing its energies on sustainability. Through its Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, the City is planning holistically on how best to grow, process, distribute, eat and compost more healthy, sustainable, locally grown foods. The City's Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2013, aims to reduce energy use by 17% by 2025, construct 30 miles of on-street, protected bicycle facilities, and compost up to 15% of the City's entire waste stream. Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, is LEED Silver certified, making it the greenest ballpark in America. This summer, think about traveling to the ‘North'. No, not Canada, but Minnesota, more specifically the great city of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis offers a variety of dining options, from locally sourced high-end dining establishments to every day eats that will satisfy your palette. One of my favorite places in town - for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a weekend brunch - is the Birchwood Cafe. Located in the Seward neighborhood adjacent to the Mississippi River, the Birchwood offers locally sourced meat, dairy, and produce from Minnesota and Wisconsin farms and beers from local brewers. They offer great choices for adults and kids, as well as a variety of gluten-free and vegan options.
The recently remodeled Hilton Minneapolis has committed to a number of sustainability initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment. It has coordinated with a local food recycling company to process scrap food wastes for pig and cattle feed for local farmers. It also works with the Heartland Food Network to purchase locally grown organic food to serve in its on-site restaurants and in-room dining. All guest rooms are equipped with water conserving shower heads and toilet fixtures, and the hotel's chiller plant has been retrofitted with variable speed drives, greatly reducing electricity consumption.
Located in downtown Minneapolis just a block from Nicollet Mall and a short walk to Loring Park, the Hilton Minneapolis is a convenient location to explore much of Minneapolis by foot, bike or transit.
Whatever you fancy, sustainability is woven through many of the activities and destinations that you will find in Minneapolis. Interested in history? Explore the Mill City Museum. Opened in 2003, the museum mixes the preservation of historic mill ruins dating from the 1880s with new architectural features such as an eight-story glass façade, providing a rich history of Minneapolis's flour milling past while also offering sweeping views of the Mississippi River and Stone Arch Bridge below. The recipient of a number of historic preservation awards, the museum also plays host to regular community events, including its Mill City Live program, which showcases local musicians, as well as the Mill City farmers market, which has events throughout the year featuring local, sustainable and organic farmers and artisans.
Looking to get out and explore nature in the city? Minneapolis has you covered. One of my favorite locations is Minnehaha Falls Regional Park. Located just upstream from where Minnehaha Creek joins the Mississippi River, the falls offer a dramatic 50 foot drop over limestone bluffs, as well as a number of trails to explore on bike or by foot. Within the park, visit the pergola garden, which features native woodland and prairie plants, helping to preserve the areas natural ecosystem and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators while reducing the need for watering and chemical intervention. Visit early on a Sunday morning and you'll feel as if the urban jungle is miles away.
A trip to Minneapolis is not complete without a stop at Open Book. Opened in 2000, Open Book is a cultural and artistic nonprofit organization founded by The Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Editions, and Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Its mission is to "inspire and welcome a vibrant book community, to be a catalyst for artistic collaboration, to engage the community in activities and programs for all interested in book arts and the written and spoken word, and to provide a sustainable home for literary and book arts organizations." Towards that end, Open Book offers a myriad of unique offerings from one of a kind book arts and materials for sale, performance and meeting space, classes for all ages on such topics as screenprinting, origami, and bookbinding, and events such as roundtable discussions with visiting artists.
Minneapolis' relatively compact downtown, combined with its comprehensive network of bicycle and pedestrian paths and growing transit choices, provides many sustainable transportation options at your fingertips. Arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport? Hop on the Metro Blue Line, a light rail line connecting directly to downtown. Once in downtown, you are within easy walking distance of many attractions, including Nicollet Mall, the Warehouse District, and the Mill District. Further afield, the Nice Ride Minnesota bike sharing system, with 170 stations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, provides opportunities to visit the City's many charming neighborhoods and lakes. And best of all, the expansive Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway offers an off-road, paved network of paths for people all ages and abilities to explore at their own pace.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport light rail transit connections https://www.mspairport.com/GroundTransportation/light-rail-transit-service.aspx
Metro Blue Line Light Rail
Nice Ride Minnesota
Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway
[Photo taken from the Birchwood Cafe, http://birchwoodcafe.com/menu]
Ed Sanderson is an urban planner, environmental engineer, occasional travel writer, and graduate of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at email@example.com.