Eden Prairie Parks Director Bob Lambert (left) and Sean Jergens, an ecological designer with The Kestrel Design Group of Minneapolis, look over a potential site for an interpretive sign in the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area. The sign would be part of the planned Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail. (Photo by Stuart Sudak)
Signs of progress: Plans begin to take shape for Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail in conservation area
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
By Stuart Sudak
It was a trek 152 years in the making.
With the noisy yet peaceful sound of fallen leaves crumpling underneath their shoes, Parks Director Bob Lambert and ecological designer Sean Jergens were busy last Thursday afternoon hiking the meandering woods and prairies of the city’s Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area on the hunt for just the right spots for five interpretive signs.
“We want to try to pick the best location for signs describing the quality maple basswood forest, old-growth prairie, or whatever else is here,” Parks Director Bob Lambert explained before beginning his journey. “We’re going to pick a location that can eventually be marked on a map and direct people to it.”
For more than an hour, the two trekked up and down and over and around the area’s rugged 125 acres overlooking the Minnesota River valley, occasionally stopping to survey a possible site on Jergens’ map. The process (the city owns the land but a non-profit group is raising private dollars to fund it) is very much a work in progress.
“What do you think of this?” Jergens asked Lambert.
“I’m not sure,” Lambert replied. “How about over there?”
When the signs are finally standing, they will dot the Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail, which will follow the path of existing trails inside the conservation area. The trail will honor Ellet, the author and New York Times correspondent credited with naming Eden Prairie.
As the story goes, Ellet was traveling along the Minnesota River 1852 when she climbed a river bluff to see the prairie in bloom. Ellet gushed that the area reminded her of the Garden of Eden. Returning to St. Paul, she urged the area be called Eden Prairie.
For the most part, Ellet’s part in Eden Prairie’s origins is unfamiliar to most. There are no streets or landmarks named after her, just a few short paragraphs in local history books chronicling the story of how the city was named.
That is, until now.
“There really isn’t any recognition of her other than a mention,” said Vicki Pellar-Price, the Eden Prairie resident spearheading the public-private trail project. “But this makes perfect sense.”
According to plans for the trail, six signs (one will be located at the entry of the area off Highway 212) will incorporate the words penned by Ellet about what she saw during her trek to Minnesota all those years ago.
Each sign will be posted near the plant community it highlights. It will be etched with Ellet’s poetic musings as well as scientific information on the surrounding plant life, whether it is prairies, sedge meadows, bottomland forests, big woods, or oak savannahs.
Although it is unknown exactly where Ellet stood overlooking the valley, Lambert said the conservation area looks much like the river bluffs did back then.
“After reading what’s on the signs, you’ll then get to look at it,” Lambert said. “It surrounds you. This is the kind of thing she saw because it really hasn’t changed.”
Last December, the City Council gave Price and her non-profit group Writers Rising Up the green light to start raising money to create the trail. The mission of Writers Rising Up is to promote writers who portray place, natural habitat and wetlands in their work.
She thinks the area’s “unique historical, botanical and literary presentation” will be put to good use for educational, literary and botanical trail tours for children and adults. She plans to make the tours “kid-friendly,” with signs lower to the ground so children don’t have to stand on their tip-toes to see and offering Web-based educational resources.
“People will walk through here and say ‘My God, I didn’t know that,'” she said. “And then children and adults can go back to the Web site and we’ll have stuff to go along with it.”
To make the signs (and the trail) a reality, Pellar-Price hopes to raise an estimated $24,000 for the signs and other related costs ($12,000 for the six signs, $4,000 for project research, $5,000 for installation fee, and $2,700 for Web presence). That estimate does not include money for a second stage, which includes building a council ring for educational lessons, plantings and trail segments.
Jergens, who works for The Kestrel Design Group, is helping Pellar-Price’s group with some of the design. He knows much about the area since it was the focus of his master’s degree thesis in landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota.
“One of the great things about this park is that there is such diversity,” he said. “There are forests and savannah and ravines and streams. We’re trying to highlight all of it.”
When signs are actually placed in the conservation area depends on fund-raising efforts, Pellar-Price said.
Writers Rising Up is currently seeking donations for the project, with community sponsors who donate $25 or more being listed on its Web site. Business sponsors donating $100 or more will be listed on the Web site and trail guide. The guide will be available at sponsoring businesses and the City Center once the project is completed.
Pellar-Price is currently in the process of obtaining Writers Rising Up’s 501-3-C, which will give it federal non-profit tax-exempt status. She added that it is already non-profit incorporated with the state.
“We’re hoping that will help with fund-raising,” she said.
She believes the trail has the potential to attract many visitors, both local and regional, to such places as the conservation area and local businesses.
“Interesting enough, whenever I do a search of (Ellet’s) name on the Web I come up with many Eden Prairie businesses that make note of the story of how Eden Prairie was named,” she said.
For more information about sponsorship, e-mail Pellar-Price at www.efeinterpretivetrail.com, or visit www.efeinterpretivetrail.com. Contributions can be sent to EFEIT at the Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail, 16526 W. 78th St., No. 163, Eden Prairie Minn. 55346.
Ssudak@swpub.com is Stuart Sudak’s e-mail address. He also can be reached at 345-6474.