What's new in our parks?
7/3/2023 by Muse Abdi, M.B.B.S., BBiomedSc, M.P.H., and Karlin Ziegler
Have you been wondering what programs and activities are available in the parks this summer? We've got you covered. There are many activities and programs available in your parks.
Minnesota State parks
Did you know there are 12 state parks and eight state trails in southeast Minnesota? Each location offers different opportunities to experience nature and explore the outdoors. Check out some of the new offerings at state parks and trails.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is partnering with select libraries across the state to provide free seven-day state park passes for the public. Participating libraries include:
- Albert Lea Public Library.
- Austin Public Library.
- Rochester Public Library.
- Spring Valley Public Library.
- Winona Public Library.
- And more. Find a full list on the Minnesota state parks library program webpage.
Go underground at Mystery Cave
Visitors to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park can cool off in the depths of Mystery Cave while learning about the unique geology of the Driftless area of southeast Minnesota. The cave is open from May 13 through September 5. Learn more about tour options and how to reserve tickets on their website.
Guided Forest Bathing Walks
Whitewater State Park offers guided forest bathing walks throughout the year. These gentle mindfulness walks are designed to meet the Arthritis Foundation's Walk with Ease standards. Check out the Whitewater State Park online event calendar for dates and times for forest bathing walks and other events and activities.
Olmsted County Parks
Friday, May 5, was the official opening day of the new nature center at Oxbow park and Zollman Zoo. The nature center was built to accommodate increasing visitors and environmental education programming. The new facility showcases the unique plants, animals and geology of Southeast Minnesota.
The classroom space is large enough to hold popular public programs for up to 150 people or allow the group to break down into several smaller classrooms. The new exhibit hall is the main attraction of this building, with a bright, open concept, live animal displays and many interactive exhibits for kids to learn while they play and explore. You won't want to miss a day trip to Oxbow this summer to enjoy the zoo, new nature center, natural playscape and hiking. For more information, please visit Olmsted County Park's website.
New this year is a self-serve rental system for kayaks and paddle boards. This option makes rentals available to the public outside of the typical hours and rental season offered by park staff. Three kayaks and one paddleboard will be available through this new system.
Using your cell phone and credit card, you can rent the equipment from the locker near the beach. Rates are $0.25/minute ($15/hour.), or you can get a season pass for $75. Take advantage of the expanded rental times and enjoy your time on the lake.
Several construction projects are happening around the parks. For example, a new DNR State trail is being constructed, which will be coming to Chester Woods. A new amphitheater will be built this summer. New cornhole structures are getting installed. As always, you can find a schedule of programs on Olmsted County Parks' website.
Rochester City Parks
A new splash pad opened on Memorial Weekend in Lincolnshire Park at 5276 Members Parkway. The splash pad provides a fun, cool-down location all summer. The splash pad is connected to the park and neighborhood by a new bike path near the park's parking lot. Check this link for more information about the new splash pad.
A pavilion building has been added with indoor space, which residents can rent out, and includes restrooms for park users, parking and drop-off facilities at Cascade Lake Park. A fishing pier has also been installed in this latest construction phase.
Many new features will be opening this fall at Cascade Lake Park. Improvements will include a newly constructed amphitheater and stage to host music and other events. An expanded nature play area will include more accessibility for those of different abilities and will include many new interactive activities. More information can be found on this website.
The Soldiers Field Pool will be closed for the summer of 2023 for the construction of a new, expanded aquatics center in 2024. However, Silver Lake Pool, Foster Arend Beach and Cascade Lake Beach will be open this summer for the community's outdoor swimming and aquatics activities.
The new Soldiers Field aquatic center will feature an activity lap pool, lazy river, multiple water slides and splash pad/wading pool. Other improvements are also planned for construction in the next year, including a new playground, walking paths, basketball courts, picnic shelter and nature play area.
Muse Abdi, M.B.B.S., BBiomedSc, M.P.H., is a community health specialist and Statewide Health Improvement Partnership strategist with Olmsted County Public Health Services. He works on other health promotion initiatives, including educating healthcare providers on the importance of prescribing time in nature and public awareness of the health benefits of the natural world. He facilitates the Southeast Minnesota Park Rx Workgroup. He is the co-liaison and co-facilitator of the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion project the Community Council, with Olmsted County.
Karlin Ziegler is the parks director for Olmsted County parks. She serves on the Southeast Minnesota Park Rx group, educating the public about the important physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature. she also teaches parks and trails employees from around the state how to engage healthcare professionals in Parks Rx.