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Working in City Parks

By: Whitney Wais

There are many perks of doing urban conservation work. An unmistakable part of my every day has to be the dogs. They are there with their owners or shall we say… chaperones, running through the woods or in a dog park. Big ones, small ones, shaggy ones… well you get the picture. They are everywhere. (And why is it again that they always look like their owners?)

In addition to petting unsuspecting dogs, we stop traffic on occasion, chainsaw in plain view and hear input from supportive citizens.

Working on a Minneapolis crew has been really eye-opening. I’ve learned so much in a short amount of time about park maintenance, safety and restoration. For example, we have been cutting in Riverside Park, which is just north of I-94 on the West Bank in Minneapolis, for the past few weeks as spring makes its way through.

I have found working in this park rewarding for many reasons. For me and my co-leader it has been a training ground for working with our youth crews, who we see three days a week. We have learned how learn from each other, how to have fun, how to make awesome brush piles, how to be okay with peeing anywhere and how to identify important trees. We have also gotten to know Riverside’s history, both past and present, and have come to better understand our roles as corps members.

Previously a quarry, Riverside Park was among the first pieces of the Mississippi River the Minneapolis Park Board bought in 1883. Today two levels split the forty acres of dense woodland with a steep hill descending to the River Road. On the upper portion there is large soccer field, and on the bottom there are WPA 1930s era stone steps, walls and terraces, which edge the expansive lawn and picnic areas.

Unfortunately, last year Riverside Park received citywide attention due to a terrible incident. A St. Catherine’s college student was assaulted while walking to class in the dense wooded area of the park. Understanding this tragic event has been important for us as crew members and co-leaders because it has shown us how we can also contribute to the safety of Riverside by clearing away unneeded brush. We are not only removing invasive trees like mulberry and buckthorn but we are also making it a much safer area for those who walk its paths. There is a satisfaction in this project because we can so clearly see the before and after pictures, where the park looks drastically different. Gone are the fallen over dead trees, closely set ashes and tangled buckthorn. Now the native elderberry bushes and cherry trees have space to grow and lounge in the sun. 

For me, this park has been a training ground for many things. Not just working with high-schoolers, co-leading our youth crew or retaining focus on a complex project, but it has also reminded me of the important roles wilderness areas play in our city. They are there to be protected, as much as we all are.