Scandia’s Lilleskogen Park, about eight acres of wetland and forest, is located in the heart of the city.
You may have driven past it: As you head east on Scandia Trail, just before the four-way stoplight, it’s the wooded area on your right.
Formerly known as Old Lions Park, Lilleskogen sits in the triangle formed by Scandia Trail (TH-97) on the north, Oakhill Road on the southwest, and Olinda Trail on the southeast. The park extends to the roads on the west; the east side of the triangle is lined with homes and businesses.
Just steps away from elementary school, store, café, church and senior housing, Lilleskogen could be an important part of downtown Scandia, someday.
But the old hiking trails created by the Scandia/Marine Lions more than 10 years ago have deteriorated. Native plants have been choked out by canary grass and buckthorn. Overgrown is a good word for it.
Some upgrades have begun, but further improvements are on hold, awaiting funding.
The improvements are part of a master plan that will make the park not just a hiking place for locals but also a scenic and educational destination.
A park restoration plan prepared for the city in 2007/2008 proposes a six-foot-wide trail loop around the park, with a surface suitable for wheelchairs.
The trail would begin on the west side, at a new parking lot big enough to accommodate school buses.
Work on the parking lot has begun. Red pines were cleared from the site this year.
In the past, only street parking was available. The new parking lot is located near Scandia Elementary school and Oakhill Cottages, a 40-unit senior apartment complex.
At this new entrance, the restoration plan calls for a small picnic shelter and orientation kiosk, with a group gathering area in the remaining red pines.
A 5,000-square-foot native plant butterfly garden and 2,500-square-foot wildflower garden, with wood chip trails and signs, are also proposed for the west entrance.
In addition to the main trail, a mid-loop trail would give access to an outdoor classroom and play area.
And on the north side, a pond would have boardwalk crossings and an overlook.
Raising the water level to support a pond required a low dam to regulate water flow. The dam has been installed. It had to be in place before work could begin on the walking paths, in order to establish a high-water mark.
On the east side the walking path could potentially connect to Olinda Trail, as the city owns a narrow strip of land between the homes and businesses there.
According to the plan, the most problematic invasive plant species are reed canary grass, common and glossy buckthorn, and Tartarian honeysuckle.
Some native trees have also aggressively colonized the site, which was used years ago to graze farm animals. These include quaking aspen, box elder, American elm and black willow.
The restoration plan suggests herbicide use to remove and control unwanted plants.
To remove some trees, replace invasive species with native plants, restore and improve the trails, and add all the new features is not cheap: Cost estimates in the master plan total more than $300,000.
The actual outlay may be less. Members of the park committee, plus their volunteering friends and families, have completed tasks without city funding. Buckthorn brigades, a chain saw-wielding chairman, a friendly local excavator and others have contributed time, equipment, and expertise.
For major improvements, the city is hoping for outside funding. The restoration plan suggests pursuing grants from the DNR (to restore native plant communities, reforest and protect wetlands), and the Federal Recreational Trail program (to restore trails).
Both of these potential sources use matching grants, so the city would need ready money to take advantage of them.
And in order for Lilleskogen projects to be considered for grants, committee members have realized, the parking lot may need to be finished first.
The Scandia/Marine Lions would like to help the park, but they require that the city have a funding plan in place.
Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the city’s natural areas, is also interested in creating accessible trails and restoring habitat at Lilleskogen Park.
Unfortunately, a lack of new housing in the last few years means almost no money coming into the park fund. Park dedication fees paid by developers are the income source.
At the Sept. 18 council meeting, the committee asked for $15,000 from the general fund to begin work. Because the maximum 2012 levy has already been certified, this amount would have to come from elsewhere in the budget.
The question of using city maintenance staff to maintain trails was also brought up.
At the council workshop on October 9, members of the Park and Recreation Committee talked about clearing trails, completing the parking lot, and excavating the pond. These discussions will resume at the council budget meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, Oct. 23. The meeting will start at 7 p.m.
To read the Lilleskogen Plan, visit the city of Scandia website at www.ci.scandia.mn.us. Click on the Parks and Recreation tab at the top, then Lilleskogen Park Restoration Plan from the list on the left.