Lilleskogen means “small forest” in Swedish. Recent changes to the Scandia park bearing this name have made the forest a little smaller. But progress requires change, and Lilleskogen is progressing.
Following a 2008 park restoration plan, the city is converting the 8 acres of woods and wetlands to include a parking lot and butterfly garden.
With its location in the heart of Scandia, Lilleskogen contributes to the year-round picture postcard quality of the downtown area. The park lies just south of Scandia Trail (TH-97) between Oakhill Road and Olinda Trail, which intersect at Elim Church and the Scandia Mercantile. It’s within walking distance of Scandia Elementary and Oakhill Cottages senior apartments.
With the tall brick church, the arborvitaes and headstones of the cemetery, and the historic buildings that house businesses and Gammelgården Museum, Lilleskogen’s trees make downtown Scandia feel like a less hectic world.
The tall red pines of Lilleskogen are majestic against winter snow. In May, tiny leaves on deciduous trees give off a yellow-green glow. Summer paths are cool and green. Fall offers dark trunks against yellow leaves, topped by lofty pine branches in blue sky. At the center of the woods are 4 open acres, a seasonal pond rimmed by white-trunked aspens.
But the woods were full of invasive buckthorn and the wetland taken over by reed canary grass. Paths, benches and a bridge, left over from the era when it was called “Old Lion’s Park,” were not maintained. Parking was on the street.
The plan called for wheelchair-accessible paved paths and a paved parking lot. But with the recession came a pause in development and corresponding lack of park dedication fees.
Progress continued in recent years largely because of Scandia’s active Park and Recreation Committee, whose members volunteered for buckthorn removal and cut down trees to clear the parking lot area. The fire department was enlisted for a canary grass burn.
Recent compromises are another factor. Instead of paved paths, the short-term solution is wood chips. Instead of a paved parking lot, gravel will do for now.
Because of these decisions, the city is about a year away from having a finished parking lot flanked by 5,000 square feet of butterfly garden, overlooking the sunny wetland and leading to shady hiking paths.
Last summer volunteers from Lakes Free Church in Lindstrom used wheelbarrows to start moving wood chips to the paths. Residents saw wood chip piles sitting in the parking area all summer, but a city crew finished the job in the fall.
Black dirt was removed from the parking area just before Thanksgiving, with equipment and labor donated by Interstate Companies of Forest Lake.
Then other businesses stepped in: Landmark Surveying of Scandia staked out the parking lot. Critical Connections Ecological Services, a Scandia firm that helped write the 2008 restoration plan, cleared invasive species from behind the parking lot. Roger Peterson of Peterson Excavating used his Bobcat to spread the gravel.
And the source of the gravel? Tiller Corporation, which began operating the Zavoral Mine in Scandia this year after an expensive multi-year environmental review process. Tiller donated 1,000 tons of sand and gravel and hauled it from the company’s other Scandia mine on Lofton Avenue. The materials and hauling have an estimated total value of $5,000.
“We are happy to contribute to a project that will benefit the community, especially its youth. Scandia has been an important home for our business for nearly 40 years,” said Christina Morrison, Tiller’s land use coordinator. “This is an opportunity for Tiller to do what it does best, providing quality sand and gravel, which makes the park more accessible for folks to enjoy.”
The project was finished the first week of December. The total value of the donations was nearly $13,000.
To continue invasive species removal and planting of native species in the wetland, City Administrator Kristina Handt said, the city will need donations to cover burning and chemical treatment. To prepare for wetland work, the weir structure (a low dam used to raise or lower water level) was lowered last summer and the pond water drained.
A new sign is being considered for the northwest corner of the park, where Scandia Trail meets Oakhill Road. The sign would alert travelers to Scandia’s picturesque downtown.
A memorial for military veterans may be part of Lilleskogen, depending on the Scandia/Marine Lions. A Lions committee will make a recommendation in March.
Next spring or fall the butterfly garden will be planted by volunteers under the direction of Scandia’s Janie O’Connor, a butterfly expert who sells larvae at the Wednesday farmers market.
O’Connor hopes the Lilleskogen butterfly garden will become a certified Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch. Two species of milkweed are required on a site that receives at least six hours of sun each day, with good drainage and a maintenance plan in place.
Ideally, the butterfly garden will become a productive breeding ground for monarchs. These butterflies lay eggs exclusively on milkweeds, which are eradicated on many farms, gardens and lawns. “Last summer was the lowest monarch count since 1993,” when thorough counting began, O’Connor said.
This year’s Vinterfest, Scandia’s annual celebration of skating, sledding, snow sculpture and chili, will include a “LilleTour and Quiz Promenade” through Lilleskogen.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, skiers, walkers and snowshoers will start at Gammelgården and cross Lilleskogen, with quiz prizes handed out at Designs of Sweden, a sponsor of the event. This route makes use of a strip of land connecting Lilleskogen to Olinda Trail, a city easement that residents unsuccessfully tried to get vacated in 2013. But so far no one has complained.
“The council made it clear to the residents that this is a one-time occurrence,” Handt said.
Lilleskogen will also be the site of polar explorer Ann Bancroft’s VinterSurvival Camp on Feb. 1, in the Lilleskogen parking lot off Oakhill Road.
Because of work on the parking area, the wetland is now visible from Oakhill Road. Should residents be concerned that more trees will be removed?
On a July 1 walk through Lilleskogen, Park and Recreation Committee members talked about the many red pines, planted so close together that most have branches only at the top.
“Those red pines look pretty crappy. I’d drop every one of them,” one member said. Some would like all the red pines cleared, which would not leave much of a forest at Lilleskogen.
“The red pines are not native. Theoretically, those should all go. They’re just choking each other out,” another member said.
But the Lilleskogen restoration plan addresses the red pine problem and calls for keeping most of the trees: “This approach recommends maintaining coniferous forest and woodland canopy trees as they occur on the site. Some planted or naturalized coniferous trees can be selectively removed from conifer stands to improve park aesthetics, safety, or function with little negative ecological impact. However, a wholesale removal of conifer trees from naturalized woodlands and plantings in the park is not recommended.”
Trees will be removed at the northwest corner if a “Welcome to Scandia” sign is placed there.
And aspens beware: The restoration plan lists “oak/aspen woodland” under existing conditions. Under proposed conditions, the listing reads just “oak woodland.”
All photos by Mary Bailey unless otherwise noted.