Volunteers play major role at this park
This is a park that wholeheartedly welcomes volunteers. “There’s a whole culture of embracing volunteers within all Olmsted County Parks,” says Joel Dunette, one of the founding members of the friends group. In fact, the number of hours that volunteers contribute toward the park is equal to the staff hours.
The friends group website lists nine ways volunteers can get involved, including:
- Assist programs or events—lead a bird hike or full moon event or cook during the annual friends sponsored BBQ, etc.
- Maintain trails—operate the ski groomer or monitor trail conditions, etc.
- Maintain Chester Lake—pick up trash or conduct water quality tests.
- Maintain the prairies—participate in prescribed burns or harvest seeds, etc.
- Maintain bird and insect habitat—clean bird houses and monitor populations.
- Research park history—locate and preserve historical sites.
- Maintain the natural playground—repair elements and remove weeds, etc.
And if that’s not enough to chose from, they invite people to design their own volunteer niche.
One area where the friends focus considerable resources is in removing invasive buckthorn. They have a dedicated group of “weed warriors” who meet weekly to remove weeds, harvest native seeds and plant new native plants in the prairie.
In addition to the ample volunteer work, the Friends of Chester Woods Park are dedicated fundraisers. In 2020 they funded the replacement of two bridges, a new interpretive sign and a trial run of goat grazing–they paid to bring goats into the park to eat invasive vegetation.
Individual donations fuel most of the work, but the friends also operate a private watercraft storage rental in the park. This helped to raise more than $3,000 for the friends last year.
A second camper cabin was added to the park a couple years ago using the friends’ coffers. They’ve also spent their funds to build a wagon for transporting seniors and people with mobility challenges around the park during events.
In recent years the friends provided input and assistance to design a nature playscape and a new Legacy Trail. The trail is designed for patrons to have a spot of solitude and a location to remember loved ones with the purchase of a brass leaf secured to a metal artwork.