Weekend Tourist: A park that celebrates nature and art

Minnesotans love their summers. Whether we’re hiking, biking, fishing or hanging out in a hammock with a good book, we use summer days to their fullest. If you’re not heading Up North this weekend, one of our dozens of regional parks can provide a quick and easy mini-vacation. Remember, getting away from it all can be as simple as a stroll in a park.

The Three Rivers Park District, covering the west metro area from Rogers to Shakopee, was established by state Legislature in 1957. Its 20 parks are located within the watersheds of the Mississippi, Minnesota, and Crow rivers. These free outdoor treasures attract more than 6 million visitors annually to their beaches, lakes, picnic areas, golf courses, mountain bike trails, horse trails, cross country ski trails and even campsites. For a park map or events calendar, visit threeriversparks.org.

Silverwood Park is the newest park in the Three Rivers district. It will be celebrating its second birthday in September. For 75 years the property was a wilderness retreat for urban kids. It was founded in 1921 by the Salvation Army with the idea that nature was both a source of inspiration and good for one’s health. Children escaped the heat and diseases of summer, played  and had adventures, then stayed overnight in tents or cabins on the water’s edge. Inside the new visitor center are great photos showing the camp’s history. Three Rivers bought the land in 2001 and the new park opened to all in 2009.

Silverwood is a unique park with a philosophy that believes nature and art belong together. In addition to the typical naturalist tours, Silverwood has numerous art classes, a camera club, acoustic music jams, yoga and scattered throughout the grounds are nature-inspired sculptures.

The park’s focus on arts and the environment also extends into their landscaping. Creative clusters of feathery prairie grasses cover the grounds, colorful bursts of indigenous wildflowers attract photographers and butterflies alike, clay pots overflowing with spiky plants and giant leaves decorate the building entrances. And just like at the Arboretum, plant names are identified on small signs. It’s no wonder they’ve won landscape design awards!

In fact, the visitor center’s architecture itself has also won design awards. Designed by Miller Dunwiddie Architects of Minneapolis, the building was designed to meet Minnesota’s sustainable design requirements.

In addition to geo-thermal heating and cooling systems, rainwater is collected and cleaned for irrigation. The interior features lots of windows, vaulted ceilings, a massive stone fireplace, and plenty of benches and tables and chairs for people to enjoy free-trade coffee or log onto wifi. When part of the property was cleared for the visitor center and park trails, some beautiful old oak trees had to come down. But those that fell were milled and live on in the center’s beautiful wood interior.

A meandering trail traverses the property attracting walkers, rollerbladers, bicyclists, and wheelchairs. Don’t miss the wooden floating bridge that stretches out to an island in Silver Lake. Reconnect with nature at this gem of a park and remember Woody Guthrie’s famous lyrics: “this land was made for you and me.”

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Upcoming events
• Sunday, Sept. 11, 1–3 p.m., open house with free kids art classes on the month’s theme of cameras.
• Saturday, Sept. 24, noon–9 p.m., Silverwood and MNartists.org team up for a day packed with art, poetry, and music
• Thursday, Oct. 13, 6–8 p.m., opening reception for “People and the Land,” a juried art exhibit of work representing human connections or disconnections from the natural communities.
• Wednesday, Oct. 26, 5–7 p.m., pumpkin carving ($7, reservations required. call 763-559-6700)

Silverwood Park
2500 County Road E, St Anthony (near 694 and Silver Lake Road), open daily 5 a.m.–10 p.m.

Pie Break
Made-to-order sandwiches, salads, fruit smoothies, fresh baked goods, coffee and other tantalizing treats are available in the visitor center’s cafe.