On a sunny spring day, Gloria Kiester noticed two young boys playing in the park across the street from her house.
“They crouched, looked, snatched, waited, slid over and then peered intently, grabbed and looked and waited some more,” she recalls. “For two to three hours, they were totally absorbed.”
Kiester resisted asking the boys what they were doing, instead leaving them to their imaginations.
“That is what the park is for,” she said, “to inspire, discover and wonder.”
That park is Lashbrook Park, 11 acres of native prairie grass on Highland Avenue. Now, approximately an acre of wooded area is being added to the park, thanks to the work of the Friends of Lashbrook Park.
“We wanted to add the land before someone purchased it and built a gas station,” said Kiester, the president of the Friends of Lashbrook Park.
The wooded area, previously owned by the Northfield Retirement Community, became property of the City of Northfield in 2004 after the retirement center traded it for a section of land on Lincoln Avenue and Cannon Valley Drive.
The addition of the wooded area to Lashbrook Park brings together the three ecosystems of which Northfield is a part.
“Years ago, Northfield was at the intersection of the Big Woods to the west, prairie grass to the south and oak savanna to the north,” Kiester said. “Lashbrook Park brings all three together. It’s a wonderful summary of the history of the area.”
Lashbrook Park is unique for another reason: It is a passive park, offering benches and trails but no playground equipment or sports areas.
“It’s designed to be a respite for people to be one with nature,” said Kiester. “It offers peace and inspiration for their souls.”
The park was established in 1991 as a result of efforts by nearby residents to keep an apartment complex off the land. A grant from the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, along with additional funds from the city, St. Olaf College and Northfield residents, brought the park into existence.
A celebration of the park will take place on April 27 with Family Fun Friday, sponsored by the Friends of Lashbrook Park and St. Olaf College social work majors.
“Our goal is to bring more families into the park and increase its usage,” said St. Olaf junior Paul Drees, whose social work class helped plan the event.
The event is in part a commemoration of a new sign installed last November that tells the story of the Lashbrook family and the park’s establishment 21 years ago.
The event is also meant to publicize the park’s status as a passive park.
“We hope to promote an appreciation of nature,” said St. Olaf junior Sarah Busch. “Our goal is to get kids outside to enjoy the beautiful landscape.”