Weekend Tourist: Exploring the wonders of Wood Lake

Sigurd Olson, Minnesota’s own revered environmentalist, said: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”

We all need to get away at times. But sometimes we just can’t go very far. That’s when it’s best to check in with one of the abundant parks in the Twin Cities. You’ve probably got one within a mile of where you are right now. Look outside — it’s summer in Minnesota and you better take every spare minute you have to feel the sun’s warmth, inhale fresh air, hear leaves rustle, watch waves ripple and maybe even swat a mosquito or two.

My favorite local getaway is Wood Lake. It’s tucked behind a tall apartment building on a road that bypasses the busy intersection of 66th and Lyndale. If you don’t know about Wood Lake it’s easy to miss. But pull into its parking lot, walk a few steps, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into northern Minnesota.

This 150-acre natural area was set aside by the city of Richfield in 1971. Three miles of trails circle the lake. The longer path follows the park perimeter through trees and meadows, but I like the boardwalk trail best. Floating boards make a wavy and buoyant sidewalk right through the middle of the lake. There’s a gentle curve so you can’t see where it ends. Open water gives way to cattails and soon you’re surrounded by willowy green blades that sway in the breeze along with you. It only takes about 20 minutes to complete the loop. Who hasn’t got time for that?

If you do have more time, visit the interpretive center. The staff there are dedicated to outdoor recreation, environmental education and wildlife conservation and observation. And they want you to have fun. The building houses exhibits and a classroom. Year round activities and classes are available for individuals, families and groups. Private parties are also welcome. Inquire about their facility rental for a summer birthday party picnic and scavenger hunt or book a winter snowshoe trek and smore roast.

The last time I ambled through Wood Lake I kept hearing someone’s cell phone ringing off in the distance. Finally, I realized it was actually a Red-wing Blackbird. Clearly I had been away from nature too long.

Bonus destinations

1: Bring home your own piece of nature — head a few blocks north to the Enchanted Rock Garden, a treasure trove of rock and mineral specimens along with stone beads and jewelry. (6445 Lyndale Ave. S. Hours: Mon.–Sat, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.) 866-1140

2: Hub Hobby is a hobbiest’s heaven — model train supplies, remote controlled airplanes, enamel paint in every conceivable color. But it also has the largest collection of toys, puzzles, and board games you’ve ever seen. (6410 Penn Ave. S. Hours: Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.) 866-9575

This is the first in an occasional series featuring regional parks. Tell me about your favorite places. Write to [email protected]

Lunch Break

Grab a burger — and I mean literally — because they don’t have silverware at Sandy’s Tavern. This finger-food-only restaurant feels like something from a small town — and it’s as friendly as one too! (6612 Penn Ave.)