An Apparatus for “Slowing Things Down”
The Goose Creek Safety Rest Area is sited along Interstate 35 at the Gateway to the Arrowhead Region, a part of Minnesota that includes the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, the Gunflint Trail, and the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Safety Rest Area program intercepts automobile/truck travel, US bicycle Routes 45 and 41, and the National Wildlife Corridor System, also known as the Monarch Highway. The 1,500-mile environmental corridor connects Minnesota to Texas providing an important migratory path for birds, pollinators, and wildlife. Following Minnesota’s tradition of providing non-commercial amenities for travelers, the public Safety Rest Area Program promotes recreation and tourism while expanding public understanding of the diversity and importance of Minnesota’s natural environments and cultural heritage. Open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, the Goose Creek Safety Rest Area accommodates hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
In her book “The Last Stop”, photographer Ryann Ford documented the disappearing mid-century rest stops along the roads and highways of the central and south-central United States. The role these ubiquitous, if diminutive, structures played in creating the America of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is clear. In their earliest form, mid-century rest areas were memorable markers along a route—non-commercial, connected to site, a place to take a break from driving and restore/refresh with minimal amenities. Rather than replacing them with a generic, commercial pit-stop model currently used by many states, Minnesota’s Department of Transportation chose to refurbish or, in some cases like the Goose Creek project, create new structures that provide and extend existing unique site-specific experiences. Based on precedents such as the Norwegian Tourist Routes, Interstate 35 facilities in Minnesota are designed to attract visitors to exceptional, but remote, landscapes and destinations. Goose Creek is the first such facility on the way to Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Recreational Area. Further expanding an agenda promoting public safety and wellness, this new rest-stop typology focuses on leisure and play and encourages vehicular safety through rest, relaxation, and access to basic amenities, restrooms, and information.
The original Goose Creek Safety Rest Area was designed and built in 1971 as a somewhat awkward round brick building with a conical roof—a “witch’s hat” in the local vernacular. Designed by MnDOT architects in the early 70s, the building and site design seem to have been informed by Bernard Rudofsky’s famous book: “Architecture Without Architects.” The site was composed as a rather sophisticated, constellation of informally arranged cylinders. The main building set the theme with a circular form and the picnic pavilions followed suit in a series of rings across the site (the salvageable picnic structures were preserved in the new design). This surprising planning strategy from the 1970s inspired the new design. While the building forms and site plan are distinctly different, many users have commented about how the new rest stop resonates with their memory of the original, informal park-like setting.
Goose Creek is a bridge between the local rural community, greater Minnesota, and visitors traveling from around the world. It is both a rest stop for travelers, a public park, and playground for the local community. People visit for respite, to enjoy the landscape and overlook, and to picnic and play with friends and family. The public art features the region’s topography and is frequently used by locals to share stories about the area’s history. The open space has even been used for ritual calls to prayer. Many people stop just to take photos of themselves on the elevated walkway or in the play area. Most importantly, Goose Creek brings together people from diverse communities, who might never otherwise encounter each other in a place where there is no other program but stopping, resting and “slowing things down.”