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Hidden Beach is a beach on the east side of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The beach is notable for once being the only nude beach in the Twin Cities, although nudity very rarely occurs there today. The beach is hidden down a block-long path through the forest which leads to the shore of Cedar Lake. The beach is officially recognized under the name East Cedar by the city of Minneapolis, as it has just recently become a legal and recognized beach area by the city of Minneapolis.
The beach is almost always occupied during spring through fall, with a large cast of regulars. During the summer, the beach is usually occupied by dozens of people at a time who come from all walks of life. It is not unusual to see upper middle-class neighbors, for example, conversing with the homeless; or to see bike-gang punks conversing with Rastas. The beach is also a meeting point for many hippies and travelers, such as "non-members" of the Rainbow Family and frequenters of Harmony Park in southern Minnesota.
The atmosphere is typically very friendly. Artists and musicians are frequently seen practicing their talents. Many beach goers participate in the game of "Rock Golf"—made popular largely due to the efforts of Larry D., a long time Hidden Beach regular and self-proclaimed "Beach Commander". For years it had not been uncommon to see dogs running loose without a leash, open alcohol containers, and occasional nudity and toplessness.
Another attraction at Hidden Beach is the mud pit, located on the eastern side of the beach, where visitors often jump in the mud and later rinse off in the lake. One of the most famous beach regulars is the "Mud Man", who greets beach goers ("Good afternoon!"), informs them of the status of the mud pit ("It's ready!"), and also keeps a count of the number of mud pit bathers for every day, week, month, and year. The Mud Man also clears the mud pit of foreign objects such as litter and sticks.
Beach-goers, especially regulars, often don special tie-dye T-shirts, which are made and given away for free by a long time regular known as Kevin. These distinctive tie-dye shirts often feature a lion family-crest type symbol, with or without a black star placed on each shoulder. Over 12,000 of these shirts have been given away at Hidden Beach.
The beach has long been a concern to the surrounding neighborhood because of the level of noise, illegal activity, and high level of traffic that it attracts. The level of safety is particularly a concern at night after the park has closed.
Before 1867, Cedar Lake had a much different shape, and most of the woods surrounding Hidden Beach, particularly to the south east, were areas of water and wetland instead. In 1867, the St. Paul & Pacific Railway (a precursor to the BNSF Railway) built an earthen causeway through what was then a large bay on the east side of Cedar Lake. In 1871, the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad joined the StP&P, running parallel tracks along the causeway. Slowly, by dumping cinders and other material, the part of the bay east of the causeway was filled in. The M&StL (the StP&P became the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba and moved its tracks from the east side to the north side of the lake 1883) then used the new land to create a major train yard. In 1878 a large scale ice cutting operation known as Cedar Lake Ice Company was founded on the lake’s north eastern shore, which shipped ice to places as far away as St. Louis. By 1900 Dingley’s boat house occupied the end of a thin peninsula on the eastern side of the lake, which eventually widened and became the site of today’s Hidden Beach.
In 1913, as part of the effort to create the Chain of Lakes as well as the Minneapolis Grand Round, Cedar Lake was lowered by five feet to connect it with Lake of the Isles. As a result, what remained of the East Bay (west of the old earthen rail corridor) completely dried up.
Despite the large railway operations going on nearby, the land surrounding Cedar Lake’s eastern shore was sold to build houses, hotels, and other such structures between 1895 and 1975. Unlike today, houses occupied both sides of Upton Ave S.
In the 1950s, the area was used as a city dump. Much of the road construction debris from the interstate projects wound up as mounds of rubbish along the eastern shoreline of Cedar Lake. The area quickly overgrew with cottonwood trees, resulting in the forested "hills" to the southeast of today's Hidden Beach.
Sometime in the 1960s, Hidden Beach came to prominence. At the time, the beach was only a small grassy clearing by the shore, led to by a deer path-sized trail. It eventually became a popular nude beach. The nearby rail yard brought many travelers and vagabonds to the area. Local legend has it that these transients helped create Hidden Beach by filling in the area with rocks.
Most of the railway yard closed by the mid 1980s, and the tracks and buildings were removed. In 1988, the primarily wealthy residents in the surrounding neighborhood paid to buy the land to the west of Upton Ave S, between the lake and the road, and turned it into a city park with a vision of establishing a nature park in the heart of the city.
Concerns and controversy
In 1995, residents in the neighborhood surrounding Hidden Beach used money from the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan (NRP) funds to hire off-duty police officers to patrol the beach more frequently. This was done officially through the Kenwood Isles Area Association (KIAA). The reasons behind this stemmed from a concern over illegal activity at the beach. Residents claimed that they were concerned with their safety and wanted to crack down on nudity, drug use, parties, and crime. It was also clearly evident that a lack of an official entrance to the beach represented a major obstacle for the park police to patrol and gain access freely. Patrons of the beach claimed that the wealthy residents in the surrounding neighborhood wanted to reduce or eliminate use by non-residents. Police publicly agreed with the beach-goers by reporting that crime was not any higher at the beach than it was at many other official beaches in Minneapolis. The Kenwood Isles Area Association pushed the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for a solution.
Others were distraught over the pervasiveness of an invasive species of Buckthorn which had grown over 70% of the park.
The Park Board decided that both concerns were valid reasons for a renovation. The plans for renovation were made official by the Board in May 2002. That summer, the beach received a major makeover when it and the paths leading to it were cleared of most of the surrounding buckthorn. Non-invasive trees were also cut down in order to widen the main path to the beach enough to allow police squad cars to drive through the park. Additional vegetation was removed each of the following years.
Although concerns of police brutality at the beach have almost always been present, they have been raised over the past few years. Police are widely known for conducting illegal searches at the beach and issuing tickets to those who are in the water and/or mud pit, where it was technically illegal to be. Some of the worst cases of police brutality in the past four years have included a man being maced for not having a fishing license and a teen aged girl being badly roughhoused for possessing alcohol (a report on the incident can be found here). Both incidents were widely witnessed.
In 2007, community members held a session of meetings to address the growing concern over activity at the beach. Neighbors voted down a proposal to build a large parking lot, but voted in favor of graveling the path to the beach, cutting down additional trees to make the path easier to navigate for patrol cars, and installing picnic tables, a grill, and a lifeguard.
Vegetation removal: plans and progress
Buckthorn and nearly all other foliage surrounding the beach was mowed down in August 2006 to an even more drastic extent than in previous years. The large areas of green vegetation that once gave Hidden Beach its name are now covered with wood chips and stumps (leading to one of the beach's new monikers--"Broken-Toe Beach"). The make-over has created beautiful wide views of the surrounding lake, but damage to the ecosystem due to erosion and loss of protective foliage is easily visible with several downed trees, erosion of the soil, and increasingly muddy water.
Spring 2007 complete overhaul
The beach underwent many drastic changes in the Spring of 2007, with more trees and plants being taken out to make room for a graveled turn-around for police cars. In addition, three concrete slabs were installed for future picnic tables, 4 inches of sand were spread on the beach, buoys limiting the swimming area were installed, a built in grill was added, a wooden cover for a portable toilet was built, and a life guard stand was erected. Vandals promptly burnt down the wooden life guard stand, and another, this time made of metal instead of wood, was erected in June.
Along with these new amenities, new rules for the beach are in place. A lifeguard will be on duty Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, legalizing swimming at the beach. An even heavier police presence is expected on the beach with the addition of the new police squad car turn-around. Dogs, even on leashes, are no longer allowed near the beach. As always, any beverage containing more than 3.2% alcohol is illegal.
Many neighbors and beach patrons have expressed outrage at the carelessness with which park workers have gone about these renovations. Extensive damage to the environment has been caused by the removal of all vegetation in large areas. New amenities seem to have been placed at random on the beach, and workers have already cracked some of the concrete slabs they installed with their equipment. With these changes the beach has taken a different character, but is still frequented by many alternative types of people from Uptown and elsewhere.
Throughout the summer of 2011 the area around the infamous mud-pit was cleared out, presumably for the Minneapolis Park Patrol to be able to observe park happenings from a farther distance. The opposite side of the gravel path has also undergone rather unsightly bush clearing as well.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hidden Beach.|
- Hidden Beach photography essay (2005)
- PDF File – Restoration Plans
- "Slick & Mired" Article on the Mud Man (2003)
- Historical Photos of Cedar Lake (c. 1890–1900)
- Article on Police Brutality at Hidden Beach
- City Pages Article – Nude Beach Busted
- City Pages Article – The Legend of Hidden Beach (2008)
- The Legend of Hidden Beach (2015)