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Lilac Way’s historic Rock Island park is facing a critical decision: preservation as a public park, or sale to a private developer.

MnDOT wants to relinquish ownership of Rock Island. On Sept. 30th, they offered this Depression-era Lilac Way park land to the City of St. Louis Park FOR FREE for public use with first right of refusal. The City staff are preparing a report for Council.

They must accept or decline MnDOT’s offer by the third week of December. If the City declines the offer, MnDOT will sell the land to a private developer.

ROCK ISLAND ALARM, Oct. 10, 2021

SLP Residents, email the decision makers

Urge the Mayor and City Council to accept MnDOT’s offer of free historic Rock Island park, and keep the rock garden and open green space for the community.

It’s easy. Here’s a sample email to get you started:

“I live at (insert your street address) in St. Louis Park. I encourage the City to accept Rock Island park and its surrounding green space from MnDOT for free because (fill in as you would like — your experience with park, family visits, rare historic structures, important green space, native habitat, etc.). I would like my comment to be part of the City staff’s report to Council.” It is important to include this last line so your comment will be in the report and on the record. Please include ‘Rock Island’ in the subject line.

All Lilac Way supporters: Join our “Say Yes to Rock Island Park” virtual rally

Help Restore Lilac Way show St. Louis Park Mayor Spano and the City Council that our community supports preserving historic Rock Island park. Join the rally!

It’s easy, 1-2-3.
  1. Write ‘Say YES to Rock Island Park!’ on a piece of paper
  2. Hold up the sign and take a selfie or have someone take your photo, anywhere you like
  3. Email it to karen@restorelilacway.com to be added to Rock Island’s Rally page

One of only three remaining Lilac Way parks, one of MN’s largest WPA projects

As one of only two rock gardens left in MN, Rock Island is all that remains of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 100 in St. Louis Park.

Built in the 1930s as a WPA project, it has an oval pool, a 10′ footbridge to an island and handcrafted curved limestone bench. Locals often called it Monkey Island. Map.

The beehive fireplace south of Rock Island was saved from demolition and restored in a new Lilac Park.

A favorite spot for residents, this green space may support native pollinators in decline, such as native rusty patch bumblebee and monarch butterflies, which have been identified nearby.

Take a virtual walk through the park.

Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. View of the park open green space. The rock garden is located next to the trees..

Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. Overlooking the rock garden and open green space, looking south.

This park is native habitat for plants and creatures, including insects, birds, deer, and wild turkeys.

Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. Monarch butterflies are totally dependent on milkweed when they are in the larval stage. Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves.
Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. Monarch butterflies are totally dependent on milkweed when they are in the larval stage. Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves.
Rock Island, July 30, 2019. Fleabane, possibly Prairie Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus), a good native plant. Blooms June-September.
Rock Island, July 30, 2019. Fleabane, possibly Prairie Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus), a good native plant. Blooms June-September.
Rock Island, Aug. 31, 2020. A turkey with two chicks - one is in front, the other is behind tree.
Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. Cabbage white butterfly, feeds on flower nectar from mustard, dandelion, red clover, aster, and mint.
Rock Island, Sept. 8, 2021. Cabbage white butterfly, feeds on flower nectar from mustard, dandelion, red clover, aster, and mint.
Rock Island, June 5, 2019. Female Red-Winged Blackbird seen in park's open space.
Rock Island, June 5, 2019. Female Red-Winged Blackbird seen in park's open space.
Rock Island, May 24, 2018. Tree mushroom.
Rock Island, May 24, 2018. Tree mushroom.

Browse the photo albums.

VIEW ROCK ISLAND’S ROCK GARDEN AND OPEN SPACES

BROWSE ALL ROCK ISLAND PHOTO ALBUMS

Rock Island Updates

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What else is MnDOT proposing for Rock Island?

As of September 2021, MnDOT’s Historic Roadside Property Program projects page proposes

  • modifications to path mowing.
  • supplemental shrub plantings may be added in the NE corner in the future.
  • repair of loose stone masonry in rock garden area for safety and to prevent ongoing deterioration.
  • adding walk to top of entry stairs for accessibility, stone bench.
  • interpretive signage.

Timeline: Stone repairs and accessibility work, fall 2021 or summer 2022.

What is Rock Island?

Built in 1939 by the WPA, it is one of seven original Lilac Way parks. They are rare historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’.

We use ‘Rock Island’ to refer to the remaining section of the original Lilac Park to avoid confusion with the restored and renamed Lilac Park near Highway 7. 

Directions to Rock Island.

See Google map. It’s located behind a sound wall in the northeast corner Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park, MN.

  • From Highway 100, go east on Minnetonka Boulevard
  • Turn left on Salem Avenue
  • Turn left on W 29th Street
  • Turn right on Toledo Avenue South
  • The park is on the west side of Toledo Avenue on the 2800 block, under the trees near the sound wall
You can’t see the park from the street, it is lower than street level.

Walk towards the clump of trees near sound wall. You will see a mowed path.

You will come up to a small set of stairs that leads you down into the park.

Rock Island, Sept. 8 2021. Entrance to park from Toledo Ave.

Why was Rock Island nicknamed ‘Monkey Island’?

Lilac Park’s north end is called Rock Island. Its pond, island, 10′ footbridge and bench are all that remains of the original park.

In the 1930s, the WPA built seven parks along Lilac Way, as well as ‘Monkey Island’ at the Como Park Zoo. Rock Island’s nickname comes from Como Park’s ‘Monkey Island,’ which was renamed ‘Seal Island’ in the 1980s.

Learn about the growing community effort to preserve Rock Island.

Postcard of Monkey Island at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, MN. Pinterest, The WOODSHED Revisited.
View photos of Rock Island's May 2019 cleanup event
View photos of Rock Island's May 2019 cleanup event

A dedicated group of volunteers wants to preserve Lilac Way’s 1939 Rock Island park.

If you’re on Facebook, follow Rock Island SLP for updates.

Volunteer cleanup efforts are on hold.

MnDOT owns Rock Island. They’ve informed us that due to liability issues, no one may perform work such as digging, planting or removing vegetation, posting signs, or making any other changes.

Doing so without a permit is considered trespassing. And permits are out of reach.

If we find a partner for a MnDOT program, volunteer efforts could start back up.

MnDOT has a new Highway Sponsorship Program, allowing them to partner with private business and civic organizations to expand the beauty and environmental sustainability of state highways.

Rock Island is eligible for this program. We’re looking for an individual, business, non-profit or civic group to apply for MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program. There is an active group of volunteers that hope to continue their efforts to preserve this historic 1939 Lilac Way park.

Without a partner to apply to MnDOT’s program, all volunteer clean up work in Rock Island is on hold.

Email Karen at Restore Lilac Way to discuss.

Rock Island’s key dates
  • In 1968 the original Lilac Park was split in two by a highway on-ramp, and Lilac Park activities were reduced
    • the park could no longer be accessed from the highway
    • the grade from Toledo Ave. was steep and difficult to walk down
    • the rock garden that was north of the beehive fireplace and picnic area was cut off from the rest of the park
  • In 2008, the 1939 beehive fireplace and picnic tables were saved, and moved to a restored Lilac Way park on Highways 100 and 7, which was renamed Lilac Park
  • In July 2009, a crew mistakenly cut down all the trees that hid this park, making it visible to traffic on Highway 100
  • In 2017, Rock Island was again hidden, when a new sound wall was installed along Highway 100
Historical info
  • One of seven original Lilac Way parks
  • Designed by Arthur Nichols, Landscape Architect
  • Built by Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of one of Minnesota’s largest federal relief projects, 1934-1941
  • Handcrafted by unemployed men during Great Depression
  • Significant in the state’s history of transportation
  • Determined ineligible for National Register status

What did the WPA build in this Rock Island section of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard in 1939?

Rock Island, June 2019. Footbridge to island with steps and bench. Only this north end of 1939 original Lilac Park remains.
Limestone walkway at the original Lilac Park on Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard
Rock Island in Lilac Park (original), Mtka. Blvd., 2007. Pool, curved paths, 10'-long footbridge.
Oval pool, island and path, Rock Island
  • Near north end of site
  • Elaborate rock garden is hidden by sound wall
  • Built of tan, mortared limestone rubble
  • Oval-shaped pool lined with stones and encircled by a flagstone path
  • In the center is an island (about 18-20′ in diameter) ringed with tan limestone rubble
  • A willow tree grew out of island
  • A 10′-long footbridge, comprised of two slabs of limestone on limestone piers, leads to island from east side
  • South end of pool had a waterfall made of mortared rocks
  • Curving limestone steps climbing the back of the waterfall
  • Curving paths are paved with flagstone
  • Lower path encircling pool is edged with low, stone retaining walls
  • Another path, which runs at a higher elevation along the eastern side of the island, is lined with stones that are set so the triangular ends point upward
  • Was separated from the rest of the park circa 1968 by the exit ramp from northbound Highway 100 to Minnetonka Boulevard which cuts through the park near north end
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, May 2018. L-shaped stone bench.
Bench, Rock Island (also known as Hidden Park or Monkey Island)
  • Small niche east of waterfall contains an L-shaped stone bench with a 2′-tall backrest
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, 1 of 2 sets of stone steps.
Rock Island, May 2018. 1 of 2 sets of stone steps.
Steps, Rock Island (also known as Hidden Park or Monkey Island)
  • Two sets of 5-6 stone steps lead down into Rock Island from southeast and southwest corners
  • Side railings of small mortared rocks
  • Remains today, needs preservation
Rock Island, May 2018. Low stone wall, 18" thick.
Limestone wall at the original Lilac Park on Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard
Lilac Park (original), Mtka. Blvd., 2007. 162'-ft long curved wall, N of park.
Low stone wall, sections
  • Not part of original Rock Island area
  • Was formerly located in south picnic area, near point where 29th Street meets Toledo Avenue
  • Thanks to Diane Steen-Hinderlie, MnDOT saved some sections from destruction and moved to the north Rock Island area after south picnic area of park was removed for Highway 100 road construction project
  • 18″ thick
  • Built of tan, random ashlar, rock-faced limestone
  • Saved sections need preservation

Read MnDOT’s 1964 Wayside Rest Area Inventory (JPG) for the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.

Read MnDOT’s 1997 Historic Roadside Development Structures Inventories (PDF) for the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.