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Lilac Way’s historic Rock Island Park is facing a critical decision: preservation as a public park, or destruction for private development.

MnDOT has confirmed that Rock Island Park is now designated as ‘surplus’ land, and plans to relinquish ownership.

In September 2021, they met with City of St. Louis Park staff to discuss the city’s interest in taking ownership of this Depression-era Lilac Way park for public use.

The staff’s initial ‘MnDOT excess land update’ report was made public on Nov. 19, 2021. It will be submitted to council at a Nov. 22nd study session.

This initial staff report is the first step in bringing Rock Island Park ownership to council.

The 11-page report provides the council with background on the land and identifies four potential land uses. Three of those four options includes private development. Only one includes public use.

The Nov. 22nd study session will not include a formal discussion or any decision-making. The purpose is to see if the council would like more information prior to having a discussion on the topic.

The council will read the report and discuss after the staff meets with MnDOT in January 2022.

A final report will be attached to the council memo when they are asked to make a decision.

All of the emails from residents and Rock Island Park supporters will be submitted to Deb Heiser and will be attached to the council memo when they are asked to make a decision. Restore Lilac Way is hoping to also include images from the “Say Yes to Rock Island Park” virtual rally.

Council must decide between public or private use.

If the City DOES WANT TO REQUEST OWNERSHIP of Rock Island Park at not cost for public use, they would need to send a letter to MnDOT requesting the land.

If the City DOES NOT WANT TO REQUEST OWNERSHIP of Rock Island Park at not cost for public use, MnDOT will sell the land to a private developer and this historic 1930 Lilac Way park would most likely be destroyed for development.

That would be a tragedy.

Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Main stairway leading into rock garden.
One of only three remaining Lilac Way parks.
One of only two rock gardens left in Minnesota.
A sister park to restored Lilac Park.

Rock Island is all that remains of the old Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. It was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to provide employment during the Great Depression.

It has an oval pool, a 10′ footbridge to an island and handcrafted curved stone bench with stone pathways. Locals often called it Monkey Island. Map.

The rare beehive fireplace from the south end of old Lilac Park was saved from demolition and restored in a new Lilac Park.

ROCK ISLAND ALERT, October 2021

SLP residents: Email the Mayor and Councilmembers.

Urge Mayor Spano and the City Council to say YES to Rock Island, and tell MnDOT they are interested in owning this historic Lilac Way park.

Keep this rare rock garden and open green space for the community.

Everyone: Join our “Say Yes to Rock Island Park” virtual rally.

  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

Rock Island Updates

Browse the photo albums.

VIEW ROCK ISLAND’S ROCK GARDEN AND OPEN SPACES

BROWSE ALL ROCK ISLAND PHOTO ALBUMS

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.

What is Rock Island Park?

Built in 1939 by the WPA, it is one of seven original Lilac Way parks, all rare historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’. We use ‘Rock Island’ to refer to the remaining section of the old Lilac Park to avoid confusion with the new restored Lilac Park near Highway 7.

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

Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Monarch butterflies are totally dependent on milkweed when they are in larval stage. Monarch caterpillars eat the leaves.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Monarch butterflies are totally dependent on milkweed when they are in 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 Park, Aug. 31, 2020. A turkey with two poults—babies—one is in front, the other is behind tree. Seen in rock garden.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Cabbage white butterfly, feeds on flower nectar from mustard, dandelion, red clover, aster, and mint.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Cabbage white butterfly, feeds on flower nectar from mustard, dandelion, red clover, aster, and mint.
Rock Island Park, June 5, 2019. Female Red-Winged Blackbird seen in the open meadow.
Rock Island Park, June 5, 2019. Female Red-Winged Blackbird seen in the open meadow.
Rock Island Park, May 24, 2018. Tree mushroom.
Rock Island Park, May 24, 2018. Tree mushroom.

Visit, you’ll be glad you did. It’s like going back in time.

It’s on Google maps. This treasured historic 1930s park is safely hidden behind a sound wall in the NE corner of Highway 100 and Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

You can’t see Rock Island from the street, it is lower than street level.

Walk towards the clump of trees near sound wall. You will see a mowed path, and come up to a small stairway that leads you down into the rock garden.

Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking towards entrance to rock garden from Toledo Ave.

Why was Rock Island nicknamed ‘Monkey Island’?

Lilac Park’s north end is called Rock Island. The Rock Garden’s pond, island, footbridge, bench and pathways are all that remains of the old 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.

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 the rock garden section of the old 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.