Members of the Friends of Tettegouche hold a ribbon intertwined with leaves while the assistant park manager prepares to cut it.

Mulch and mud pies: a nature play area opens at Tettegouche

After three years of hard work, the Friends of Tettegouche held the ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Nature Play Area on Saturday, August 26th. The play area, which is designed to be ADA-accessible and includes a variety of play features, is located at the park’s High Falls Trailhead by the Upper Campground, and will be open to anyone visiting the park.

The day of the ribbon-cutting was ideal: cool breezes and an overcast sky meant that the ceremony’s attendees could explore the play features without getting overheated or swarmed by mosquitoes. The event was very well attended, and, after the ribbon cutting, the area was alive with excited chatter and the sound of footsteps, as children of all ages climbed on the log pyramid, banged on the xylophones strung between trees, rolled stones down a chute carved from a log, and participated in a leaf-and-flower-themed crafting station led by park naturalist Kurt Mead, among many other activities. Some enterprising young souls even dragged a piece of lumber over to a sawed-off log and made their own impromptu teeter-totter, which proved to be very popular over the course of the event.

“Thanks for making this happen, Jill,” said Grace Hill, the assistant park manager, as her children ran in excitable circles around her. “My kids are gonna sleep so well tonight.”

Further into the play area was a wooden frame hung with driftwood chimes for children to run through, a seasonally-flooded creekbed perfect for the manufacturing of mud pies, a climbing tree, a station for weaving flowers like phlox, daisy, and aster into handheld art pieces, and a quiet sitting space in the shade of the park’s majestic cedars, where children sat and listened to a volunteer read a story.

In addition to the families in attendance, local contractors who had contributed logs and mulch to the play area also made an appearance, and the event was captured on film by a reporter from Duluth’s Northern News Now. Jill Beim, Project Leader, said that the play area was the culmination of three years of planning, grantwriting, and building. Planning began during the pandemic, she said, and then grants from Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota  and Co-op Light & Power made it possible to turn those ideas into reality. In addition to the grant funding, the Friends also benefited from volunteer hours contributed by their membership and youth from Service Learning LLC and other service-oriented groups, as well as materials donated by park staff and community members.

The youth groups were especially energetic. Jill’s husband Andy recounted how one of them was brought in to distribute the gravel to the necessary parts of the play area. The teens were given two days to finish the task – only for them to complete the work in the space of an afternoon.

“Jill had to hurry the mulch shipment up so they still had something to do!” he said.

The Friends are proud to have something like a finished product to share with the world, but they have no intentions of resting on their laurels. There are a few more additions to be made to the play area, and they’re also already thinking about what their next big project will be.

“Looking forward to whatever that is,” Andy Beim said, adding with a laugh, “as long as it doesn’t involve gravel!”


Photo credit: Paula Anderson/Friends of Tettegouche

Northern News Now video