Michael Vanderford knows how much impact a tree on a sledding hill can pack.
The Kingfield resident remembers the time his son Peter, now 39, had a close encounter with a spruce at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park as a 4-year-old. The scar is still visible on Peter’s forehead.
Vanderford walks the park twice daily to exercise his aging yellow lab. Last spring the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s annual Arbor Day celebration sprinkled roughly 150 trees across King Park. But a freshly planted clump of them stood out on the sledding hill.
“I just kept going by and saying, ‘This is nuts,’” Vanderford said.
Mark Oyaas knows the feeling.
The Kenwood resident drives by that neighborhood’s park most days, past the sledding hill that he started using in fourth grade, the one his two grown sons grew up on. Oyaas remembers in a simpler time how kids would lean their sleds against a garage near the park to skip hauling them back and forth from home each day. And how the large metal Pepsi bottle cap sign that adorned the wall of the corner drugstore near the park somehow made its way over to the park and served as a multi-person sled for a winter. His childhood Flexible Flyer, the classic with metal runners and wooden slats, still hangs in his Sheridan Avenue garage.
Oyaas noticed one day last spring that trees were being planted. One stood out to him, smack in the middle of the sledding hill.
“It’s a glaring thing, like a tattoo in the middle of the forehead,” he said.
Both men had enough park and neighborhood connections to work the system, although it took Oyaas multiple tries before he got any response. That’s even though he once headed the board of People for Parks, a non-profit advocacy group that raises money for park projects and programs.
Their connections ensured that both were able to get the offending trees removed. But hearing similar stories made me curious just how such mix-ups occur.
The answer seems to be that they happen despite best intentions. Forestry crews aren’t necessarily familiar with park use patterns.
At Kenwood, where the tree replacement is more on a spot basis, park director Marc Holtey said of forestry crews: “There is some consultation but not all the time. They’re the authority on tree planting.”
If a tree blocks a sledding hill, he added, “There’s a lot of areas that you can sled.”
But Joanie O’Rourke Oyaas had a far different reaction when she learned of the offending tree: “That really is stupid.”
She’s married to Mark, and grew up sledding on Tangletown’s hills.
Far more consultation went into planning for Arbor Day at King Park, which like many city parks needed new trees to replace a significant felling of disease-prone ash trees. There was a planting map, consultation with park maintenance and recreation workers and outreach to community groups. Some of them walked the site with the tree plan before holes were dug.
“We did think about the sledding in those conversations,” said Phillip Potyondy, the Park Board’s sustainable forestry coordinator.
But apparently not enough. Sarah Linnes-Robinson, the neighborhood association’s longtime executive director, was focused on other aspects of the arbor celebration and kicks herself for not reaching out to Vanderford as a knowledgeable veteran park user.
Lisa Braaten was one Arbor Day attendee for whom the newly treed hill stuck out.
“That was like the first thing I noticed,” the mother of two young boys said. “We’re not like complainers, but we were kind of sad.”
Braaten has some pedigree when it comes to sledding at King Park. Her kids are the third generation to have lived in her family’s house on Blaisdell Avenue and the third to sled at King. That lineage dates back some 80 years to when her oldest uncle was old enough to sled.
Granted, King’s hill is a gentle starter slope. Older kids graduate to the steeper, well-moguled, back specialist-enriching plunge downhill in the backyard of the park superintendent’s manor at Lyndale Farmstead Park.
And it’s true that eventually six misplaced trees were dug up again and moved off of King’s hill, along with the tree at Kenwood. Forestry crews also moved two trees that were planted in a corner of King Park where Vanderford long has been the mainspring of a feeder soccer program for kids as young as 4 years. It’s the second time in recent years that forestry staff have planted trees in that space only to have to dig them up.
One of the twists of this tale of misplaced trees is that the two men who raised the issue at their respective parks are big park boosters.
Oyaas’ late mother was a 25-year Park Board employee who served as an assistant to several superintendents and the board’s recording secretary. He himself was a board appointee to a city board. Vanderford has coached soccer at King for most of the last 30 years. He served on the park’s one-time athletic council and on the neighborhood association board.
One lesson here is that Minneapolitans take their sledding hills seriously. Some prefer the gentle slopes of Hiawatha golf course or the long hill west of Cedar Avenue that slopes down to Minnehaha Creek. Others prefer a hill farther upstream along the creek at Newton Avenue. Beard’s Plaisance in Linden Hills has a good long drop.
The best hills get their own terrifying names.
There’s Devil’s Hill in Powderhorn Park and Devil’s Drop on Tower Hill in Prospect Park. In Tangletown near Washburn, Suicide Hill has its enthusiasts. You can’t beat Wirth Park for a long golf course hill. Some claim that Farview Park in Hawthorne neighborhood is tops.
Just don’t plan a tree where the sleds are schussing.