2016 Finalist

This project has been selected as a finalist in the Natural Resources category:

Coffee Creek daylighting and restoration

Project Summary

Coffee Creek is a small, DNR-designated trout stream in the center of the City of Duluth, Minnesota. With a strong native brook trout population, this stream is unique and highly valued as it flows through several urban areas of Duluth, including the Enger Park Golf Course. As with many urban streams, decades ago a section of the stream was diverted into a 250’ culvert and buried to accommodate a golf course fairway and associated irrigation infrastructure. 

The 500-year flood that occurred in Duluth in 2012 severely damaged the stream and washed out several key pieces of infrastructure, including the dam that had created the irrigation pond within Coffee Creek. When the dam impoundment washed out, the silty pond bed that remained held shallow and stagnant water that was jeopardizing the resident brook trout population. Although the flood had also eroded the downstream end of the 250’ undersized culvert that was located immediately upstream of the damaged irrigation pond, the majority of this culvert remained intact under the sloping fairway.

The City seized the opportunity to restore and daylight this highly impacted section of trout stream through the use of strategic partnerships to leverage funding sources to ensure the inclusion of habitat features within the restoration design. As a result, the project goals included the creation of a natural stream channel that would not only be more resilient to future flood events, but that would also provide valuable aquatic habitat for brook trout while also ensuring passage of aquatic organisms. 

The City of Duluth contracted with Barr Engineering to assist with the technical aspects of designing a new natural stream channel. The City also engaged numerous stakeholder groups including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Trout Unlimited, and local golf course users to develop and implement a restoration project that met the various project goals and objectives of each stakeholder group, while working within the unique site constraints of a golf course environment.

When completed in the late fall of 2015, the total restoration project resulted in over 1,200’ of new stream channel, including high-quality trout habitat (40 in-stream structures and more than 200’ of toe wood), and over an acre of restored native vegetative buffer within the newly connected floodplain. This project also included removal of the 250’ undersized fairway culvert, installation of a large box culvert with aquatic organism passage under a critical infrastructure crossing, as well as habitat and channel restoration within the former irrigation pond. 

Although the habitat improvements are the most visual and environmentally significant aspect of this project, other key improvements on this site included strengthened project partnerships, enhanced public safety, and improved long-term infrastructure protection. This natural channel restoration project provides a unique example of how sustainable redevelopment can be achieved that protects and promotes environmental, social, and economic objectives to ensure greater resiliency to future extreme weather events.

Project Partners

  • City of Duluth
  • Barr Engineering
  • Minnesota Trout Unlimited (MNTU)
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Division of Ecological and Water Resources and Section of Fisheries (MN DNR)
  • Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)

How did the project partners work together?

Following the 2012 flood, the City of Duluth worked with Barr Engineering and other project stakeholders to identify the project goals, objectives, and constraints that would shape the final design to ensure the protection of infrastructure, stabilize streambanks, and improve habitat. Barr Engineering served as the project engineer and ecologist for the City and other stakeholders to develop the restoration design.

The City of Duluth worked closely with BWSR to identify and administer funding from the disaster recovery program passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2012. This funding was instrumental in providing the necessary resources to repair the damaged stream infrastructure; however, funds were not available to create habitat features as part of the restoration project. Therefore, partnering with MNTU was essential to identify and apply funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund that could be used for the design and construction of in-stream habitat features.

Although the project design was led by Barr Engineering, throughout the design process several project partners, namely the City of Duluth, MN DNR, and MNTU, reviewed and advised on the design. The plans were modified as necessary to incorporate stakeholder feedback and ensure that the goals and objectives of each project partner were being met while working within the project site constraints.

RJS Construction Group served as the general contractor to construct the project. The City of Duluth, Barr Engineering, and MN DNR provided construction observation and worked with RJS to ensure proper installation of the numerous in-stream habitat features.

How is the project groundbreaking?

Urban stream restoration projects are unique and the opportunity to daylight and fully restore a 1,200 ft section of stream are infrequent. However, this project is especially distinct due to it is location within a public golf course. In most cases, the vegetation and maintenance requirements of a golf course are less conducive to a stream restoration project. Fortunately, through strong partnerships and attention to sustainable turf management practices, this restoration project also offers a rare opportunity on North Shore streams for fly fishermen to take advantage of the “openness” of the golf course to cast without conflicting with trees and bush.

The design, based upon natural channel design principles, utilized engineering analysis and fluvial geomorphic processes to create a stable stream channel that conveys bankfull storm events and connects larger flows to the floodplain. The use of natural channel design on Coffee Creek created a self-sustaining stream habitat that supports diversity and richness equal to that of an undisturbed trout stream, and a riparian corridor with diverse native vegetation. Additionally, while in-stream structures like toe wood, root wad, and J-vane structures installed in the design are more common techniques used in other parts of the country, they are relatively new features to the northeastern region of Minnesota.

Finally, although the disaster recovery funding could not be used to improve stream habitat, partnering with Minnesota Trout Unlimited enabled the City to leverage additional funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. As a result, this project was able to incorporate natural habitat features to improve trout habitat while meeting a primary purpose of the disaster recovery funding – protecting infrastructure and reducing future flood damage.

What are the project goals?

The project design was guided by the City of Duluth – Trout Stream Goals, Objectives, and Project Prioritization (adopted in November 2012) that states: “In partnership with state and local resource management agencies and groups, work towards restoring and maintaining healthy trout populations in City of Duluth streams and provide long-term social and economic benefits within our urban environment.”

A remarkable aspect of this project was the successful incorporation of diverse stakeholder goals. Typically, these objectives could be conflicting, but the City and Barr Engineering worked diligently with all partners during the design process to ensure the final design met everyone’s goals and objectives while working within the project constraints that included protecting golf course infrastructure, stabilizing streambanks, and improving habitat. Project goals included:

  • Restore critically damaged stream banks, reduce excess sediment load from eroded banks and prevent further erosion and sedimentation
  • Eliminate unnatural ponding areas and resulting negative water temperature impacts
  • Remove the culverts at the former irrigation pond to restore habitat connectivity and allow fish passage
  • Daylight section of stream confined within 250’ undersized culvert
  • Establish natural stream dimension, pattern, and profile to efficiently transport water and sediment (mobile stream bed) and establish floodplain
  • Establish habitat diversity for resident brook trout and other aquatic life, including deep pools and overhead stream cover
  • Establish riparian buffer composed of native herbaceous, shrub and tree species
  • Restore habitat connectivity by providing aquatic organism passage throughout this section of golf course
  • Align the stream project design with the long-term golf course plans to maintain safety for golfers and other users, and provide enhanced recreational fishing opportunities

What are the project outcomes?

The completion of this stream restoration project achieved a variety of successful outcomes that were based on the goals that had been identified by the project partners, which included:

  • Daylight Coffee Creek by completely removing the 250’ undersized culvert
  • Restore 1,200’ of natural stream channel that is more resilient to high flows
  • Improve trout and other aquatic life habitat through the installation of 40 in-stream habitat features and over 200’ of toe wood
  • Enable aquatic organism passage through the golf course with the installation of large box culverts and stream daylighting
  • Create a natural floodplain corridor
  • Reduce temperature impacts to the downstream reaches of Coffee Creek by planting over 400 native shrubs and trees
  • Stabilize the eroded stream bed and banks to eliminate future erosion and provide a stable channel corridor within the former irrigation pond
  • Maintain golf course infrastructure and sight lines to ensure golfer safety

Overall, this project helped reduce the risk to surrounding (including downstream) infrastructure by providing a free-flowing stream channel that is connected to its floodplain, which ensures greater resiliency to future high flow events. It also provides much needed aquatic habitat improvements within this previously highly modified section of stream that is located within the Enger Park Golf Course. This project also enhances recreational opportunities for Duluth residents and anglers to experience a high quality trout stream within their “backyard”.

Event Details

Thursday, May 25, 2017
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. Registration & reception
5:45 - 8:00 p.m. Dinner & program
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dessert & reception 

Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

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Presenting Sponsors

Environmental Lay Group

Great River Energy

Reception sponsor

25th Anniversary Sponsors


Community Action

Critical Collaborator

Stoel Rives LLP

Emerging Leader


Energy and Climate

The Weidt Group

Natural Resources

Sustainable Business

Supporting Sponsors

Minnesota Power

partner SPONSORs

In-kind sponsors


CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

Consulate General of Canada

Rochester Public Utilities

Associate Sponsors

Bremer Bank
G & K Services
Nova Consulting
Smith Partners