Parks for All Purposes
The word “park” conjures images of the classic neighborhood park with playgrounds, picnic tables, and other outdoor amenities. The neighborhood park might be the most familiar style of park, but parks come in endless shape, sizes, and purposes. New Ulm’s park system demonstrates the unique type of parks available.
New Ulm’s park system is one of the most extensive in Minnesota. The city officially claims 42 park units. In terms of space, New Ulm parks take up over 319 acres of land.
Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said New Ulm ranks among the top five cities in the state for per capita parks spending. The first local option sales tax from 2000 that helped create the recreation center, civic center and community center helped moved the city to the top. The latest round of local option sales tax spending through RENU could put New Ulm at number one.
Parks were an important part of New Ulm from the beginning. Parts were platted into the city when it was founded in 1858. German Park was one of the first parks and later the city incorporated a Master Park Plan into its comprehensive plan.
The city’s comprehensive plan has guidelines that all residents should be within a third a mile from a park, which ensures every corner of the city has a park. The comprehensive plan also tries to avoid duplication of services. The end result is a few unusual parks.
In Schmitz’s opinion, the three most unusual parks in New Ulm are the Art Wall Park, the Archer1 Range Park, and the Trap Range Park.
The Art Wall Park is located at 221 Sixth N. Street between the soccer field and community center. A special walking path connects the community center parking lot to the Art Wall Park. This is one place in New Ulm where graffiti is encouraged. Local artists are allowed to paint on the wall surfaces in the park. Spray paint is the medium of choice. The city occasionally whitewashes sections of the wall to give painters a clean slate.
The Art Wall Park is the only park dedicated to the creation of visual arts. It is also one of the few parks that is geared toward older youths.
Archery and firearm ranges are not unique in Minnesota, but Schmitz said it’s relatively rare to have municipal ranges in a park system.
The Archery Range Park is hidden away at 220 Tower Road near Kraft and the Waste Water Treatment Plant. The archery range has three separate targets set up for individuals to practice their skills with a bow and arrow.
On the opposite side of the city, at 214 21st N. Street, firearm enthusiasts can practice accuracy at the trap range. The trap range is currently undergoing an expansion. A matching grant award from the Minnesota DNR assisted with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant combination trap and skeet range with LED lighting. The range is seeing increased use with all three local high schools creating youth shooting teams.
The trap range park is adjacent to another unique park called The Pollinator Park. This park was formerly known as the North Broadway Park. In the summer of 2015, the city designated North Broadway Park as a Monarch Butterfly Preserve. Deb Steinberg made the initial appeal to create a pollinator park counter the decline in monarch populations. The North Broadway Park already had pollinator presence and the park was underutilized. Natural milkweed and other pollinator plants were planted in the park over the last four years. Recently, the city agreed to nominate the park as a designated monarch waystation.
With a park dedicated to butterflies, it was only a matter of time before New Ulm received a dog park. Located at 527 S. German St., the Dog Park was created in 2014. The park site was provided by the city, but the installation of a chain-link fence was covered through fundraising events and donations. As the only park dedicated to four-legged friends, it has proved popular and continues to expand its list of amenities through donations.
A few blocks north of the dog park are two parks for the extreme sports enthusiasts. The BMX Track (316 3rd S. St.) and Skateboard Park (315 1st S. St.) are the centers for skating and biking. Both parks are located a few yards from the bike circle route.
Monday evenings, the BMX Track is packed with racers and spectators. River Valley BMX hosts local point races every Monday and includes BMX racers of all ages.
A couple of parks are unique for simplicity. Adams Park and Minnecon are mostly natural areas. Adams Park is a wilderness trail park along the Cottonwood River.
Minnecon has a paved parking lot and boat ramp, but most of the park is left to its natural setting.
At nearly 119 acres, Minnecon is the largest park in New Ulm with Adams Park the second largest with 16 acres. The size of both parks is misleading due to the wilderness setting. In addition, most of Minnecon is located on Wellner’s Island, which has limited access.
Schmitz said roughly 100 acres of Minnecon park is in a flood plain. The boat ramp and lower parking lot are currently under water. Adams Park has a similar problem. Until recently, Adams was flooded out by the Cottonwood River.
The New Ulm Park system continues to grow each year. As neighborhoods grow, new parks enter the planning stage. A current trend in parks is the inclusive playground with poured-in-place rubber surfacing. The first inclusive playground was located at Hermann Heights Park with a second installed at German Park.
Hermann Heights is, of course, home to a true New Ulm landmark, the Hermann Monument.
In the near future, one of New Ulm’s parks will receive a splash pad upgrade. A splash pad is an aquatic feature with no standing water or depth. It is described as playground equipment with water spraying features.
The city is still considering the location of this splash pad, but once installed, New Ulm will have another one of a kind park.
“We’re a very fortunate community to have a diverse and robust park and trail system,” Schmitz said.