nature center with garden and bench
November 30, 2021

Meet Friends of Sunfish Lake Park

A small, but mighty, group of volunteers banded together five years ago to stand as a symbol of stewardship for Lake Elmo’s Sunfish Lake Park. One of their primary activities has been creating and operating the nature center in the park. In addition, they host community interpretive programs, public restoration events, and more!

two kids looking at bee hive observation set-up indoorsThe friends group leases one acre of land within the park, which is where they erected a nature center. Volunteers staff a reception desk on a regular schedule, so visitors can get information, maps, and activities. Dozens of educational exhibits illustrate natural and cultural history of the park. A demonstration bee hive offers a close-up look at a bee colony. Outside of the nature center, the friends created a small path on their one acre lease. This path includes a story book procession as well as garden plots highlighting native prairie flowers and grasses.

On a regular basis, volunteers host educational and interpretive events for the public and private groups. This fall, each Saturday boasts exciting activities, such as kite flying, honeybees, scavenger hunts, and ice exploration. These activities are led by their program coordinator, board members, and Master Naturalist volunteers.

The friends group is also involved in habitat restoration at the park. They organize monthly buckthorn removal days and even a buckthorn festival, where they carve walking stick from buckthorn and make a day of volunteering. They were instrumental in securing a $139,000 grant from the MN DNR’s Conservation Partners Legacy grant program to work on removing buckthorn from 40 acres of woodlands within the park.

standing group outdoors listening to guideThe friends group recognizes how crucial volunteers are to make their work happen. They try to understand the goals and skillset of their volunteers and match that to opportunities within their group. They have learned that if they are more specific about what they need from volunteers, volunteers are more willing to jump in and do the work. Sometimes that’s doing graphic design or admin work from home or it’s organizing a public event doing something they love, like kite flying.

Friends of Sunfish Lake Park is looking forward to growing their educational and community programs and is planning to find a grantwriter to help them accomplish their future goals. In the meantime, they continue hosting events and are in planning mode for next spring’s annual fundraiser.

small garden with three sisters planted—beans, corn, and squash
Three Sisters Garden—squash, beans, corn—in cooperation with Stillwater Schools Native American Parent Advisory Committee

Content contributed by: Friends of Sunfish Lake Park

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About Ashley Pethan