Since 1998, the Friends of Minneopa State Park has supported a wide variety of opportunities for community members and visitors to experience Minneopa State Park. Their past year of activities demonstrates the group’s lasting commitment to this special park near Mankato.
- Winterfest (January): Many activities offer families an opportunity to enjoy the park mid-winter. The friends set up two luminary loops for hiking, with bonfires at each end to warm up. Hot chocolate helps to warm cold fingers. Kids and adults roast marshmallows and hot dogs over the fires for a snack. This event is a core activity the friends group has been involved in for the past 10 years.
- Annual Public Meeting (April): The friends group arranges a speaker, such as a geologist, naturalist, or historian, and invites the public to come learn about what’s going on in the park.
Nesting Bird Survey (June): For several years, friends members (some of them birding experts themselves) and a few community members and other birders have spent a day in the park to document which birds are present in the park. They split into groups and head to each corner of the park. Typically, around 85 species are identified! This data is being accumulated over the years and is shared with the park.
- Open House (June): The friends group arranges for a program to be presented two times for this event, such as the Zoomobile, the Raptor Center, or Reptiles. Ice cream is served, and a couple hundred attendees explore the nearby beauties of the park.
Harvest Fest (September): Another community event, the friends group supports with some activities, including an apple press, art crafts, and marshmallow roasting.
- Mankato River Ramble (October): A huge bike ride that goes right through Minneopa State Park. Friends of Minneopa sponsors a rest stop to help nourish riders while they pass through the park.
- Photo Contest (Winter): Expert and novice photographers alike submit photos they have taken within the park. A panel of judges selects the winners, which receive a nominal prize. Photos are then displayed in the local public library, which has become the most popular annual display!
Special 2019 Projects
Friends of Minneopa State Park received two grants from Parks & Trails Council in 2019. According to friends group secretary Tim Pulis, this was a “heck of a good thing” for the friends group and the park.
A habitat restoration grant helped the friends replace a number of trees in the picnic area near the waterfall. The old trees had been damaged from various natural forces, so the friends were able to band together and plant new, diverse, native trees to start the process of restoring the canopy and habitat.
A youth engagement grant was awarded to the friends to support science programs at two nearby high schools that will get kids to the park to study the bison, water quality, and more. Friends members engage with the kids by supporting naturalist programs and teaching kids about the bison.
Bison Ambassadors: Friends members played a key role in helping to launch the Bison Ambassador program a few years ago. Volunteers go through a training that enables them to work with the public and share information about the bison to inspire curiosity and connection. A number of friends members support the park as a Bison Ambassador.
- Quarterly Newsletter: For 20 years, the friends has been issuing the “Minneopa Messenger.” This newsletter highlights what is happening in the park, future opportunities to get involved, and some historical tidbits. They send this newsletter to their members as well as local elected officials.
- Benches: The friends group built and donated four benches that are now spaced along the 4.5 mile trail around the bison pen.
The Friends of Minneopa works closely with DNR staff to support the park in any way they can. Friends president Linda Engstrom says, “We couldn’t do all of this without Scott Kudelka [park naturalist].” Their strong collaboration has emerged as a series of events and projects that actively engage the local community and visitors. They will continue working together to refine these events.
The Friends of Minneopa looks forward to exploring other creative ideas to keep folks engaged with the park, including getting them into other parts of the park. The friends will be looking into ideas for how to build their membership. They are amidst working a new website, which will enable them to post upcoming events, photos from their photo contest, past newsletters, and more. Stay tuned to see when that website comes live!