The gardens of Grass Lake

Kenny resident Bryan Simmons stops at one of several gardens along Grass Lake.

IMG_1617Encircling Grass Lake are perennial gardens, Adirondack chairs, a woodchip trail, birdfeeders and even a duck-crossing caution sign — all of it maintained by neighbors.

One neighbor cleans out the wood duck houses each spring originally made by students at Windom School. A resident orders truckloads of woodchips from the city and summons neighbors to come with wheelbarrows and shovels. Others plant gardens along the lake perimeter to boost the bee population.

“Not too many people know about this,” said a passing neighbor, out for a walk. “And we kind of like it that way.”

Though often considered a hidden gem, the lake isn’t hard to find. Walkers on the one-mile loop travel the roadside along Grass Lake Terrace and Girard Avenue and take a south side trail that links the roads.

“It is just a holding pond for Public Works — so it really isn’t even a lake — and yet it’s got this incredible diversity of natural wonders,” said resident Kathrynne Baumtrog, referencing the lake’s flora and fauna.


Resident Bryan Simmons said the lake attracts coyote, deer, muskrat, fox, eagles and many ducks.

Grass Lake was once part of a larger water body, and construction of Highway 62 separated the water into Richfield Lake to the south and Grass Lake to the north, according to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. More than 300 surrounding acres drain into the lake, including the surface of Highway 62.

Members of the Kenny Neighborhood Association have worked to enhance the lake over time. The lake benefited from a Minnehaha Creek Watershed District grant about 10 years ago to remove buckthorn and add native plants. As part of the Crosstown reconstruction project, residents worked with the city and the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation to plant new trees along the highway, remove the old chain link fence and rebuild part of the walking path.

Simmons said the city of Minneapolis’ Public Works Department owns the lake, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is responsible for the surrounding tree cover.

But neighbors have enjoyed free rein to garden as they see fit.

When Bob Engstrom moved in 57 years ago, he brought in black dirt and clay for his sandy yard and stored it on the lakefront across the street. He later realized the dirt would give him a good base to plant flowers. A real estate developer, Engstrom also brought in landscaping material from a job site to help stop erosion on the bank. His “pals” at the Kenny Garden Club help maintain the flowers each year.

“I think I can safely say the bee population is excellent,” he said.

Residents on the east side of the lake run a hose across the street to water a colorful lakefront plot. The garden features two chairs fronting the water.


“This is a pretty awesome spot for sunsets,” Simmons said.