It took a grassroots campaign and two council resolutions to save Rock Island Park’s historic rock garden from development.

Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking southeast over the rare rock garden, one of only two left in MN.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking southeast over the rare rock garden, one of only two left in MN.

Since 1939, this rock garden has been owned by the Minnesota Department of Highway (MnDOT).

After years of neglect, they designated Rock Island and the surrounding land as surplus property.

This left two options: transfer ownership of the property to the City of St. Louis Park for public purpose at no charge, or sell the land to a developer for private use. It would be very unlikely that a developer would keep the rock garden.

In October 2021, Restore Lilac Way launched a three-part grassroots campaign to save Rock Island Park.

In December 2022, MNDOT officially offered to convey Rock Island Park’s two land parcels to the city.

In May 2023, St. Louis Park voted to accept Rock Island Park’s south parcel from MnDOT for no fee, and to buy the park’s north parcel for $187,000.

Restore Lilac Way’s campaign featured three simple actions.

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Email campaign

Supporters were able to click one button to email the Mayor, seven Council Members and Restore Lilac Way encourage the city to keep both land parcels as community space.

We later heard that the city received more emails for this issue than any other issue in St. Louis Park.

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‘Say YES to Rock Island Park’ Virtual Rally

Launched during a pandemic, Rock Island Park fans took selfies holding “Say YES to Rock Island Park” signs. All those smiling faces helped save this historic Lilac Way park.

It was a simple and effective way to show support when public gatherings were limited.

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Yard signs

Rock Island Park supporter Dennis William generously sponsored the printing of yard signs designed by Karen Laukkonen of Restore Lilac Way.

Residents contacted Karen to request a sign for their yard, and Michael Periolat installed the signs.

Rock Island supporters were heard, and their voice mattered.

Together, we saved a piece of Lilac Way history.

Preserving Rock Island and its open meadow was crucial to our community.

Rock Island and its surrounding land is an urban oasis, and a valuable asset to the City of St. Louis Park. It’s all that remains of the old Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard. It is a lovely native habitat for many plants and creatures, including birds, insects, deer, and wild turkeys.

Tucked behind a sound wall, its stone features include a pond, island, curved bench, two stairways and pathways —all built by hand during the 1930s.

St. Louis Park’s City Council voted on two resolutions on May 1, 2023.

Rock Island Park, May 5, 2021. Original 1930s lilacs, flourishing after MnDOT removed invasive buckthorn. On north end of park.

Why was this council vote so important?

  • MnDOT designated Rock Island Park’s two parcels as ‘surplus’ land, wanted to relinquish ownership.
  • If the city had not accepted MnDOT’s offer, the land would have been sold to a developer, and the historic rock garden destroyed.
  • Rock Island is all that remains of old Lilac Park, one of seven Lilac Way parks built along Highway 100.
  • These rare 1930s stone structures were built as one of MN’s largest Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects to provide jobs during Great Depression.
  • The south parcel contains one of only two rock gardens left in Minnesota.
  • The community supported preservation of the park through a successful email campaign, yard signs and “Say YES to Rock Island Park” virtual rally.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. The curved hand-cut stone bench, built as one of MN's largest WPA projects.

Resolution One: South parcel with rock garden

  • This critical YES vote saved Rock Island Park’s historic rock garden from development; if the city had voted against the resolution, MnDOT would have sold the surplus land to a developer.
  • MnDOT offered the land for $0, which requires the city use it for park purposes.
  • The rock garden will now be added to SLP’s park system, becoming a ‘sister park’ to renewed Lilac Park near Nordic Ware.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking north to the park's open meadow.

Resolution Two: North parcel with meadow, deer, wild turkeys, native plants and original 1930s lilac hedge

  • This critical YES vote allows the city to buy the north parcel from MnDOT for fair market value of $187,000.
  • The offer letter does not appear to include any restrictions on the use.
  • In addition to the $187,000 cost to acquire the north parcel from MnDOT, the city would incur administrative and property maintenance costs.
  • Funds for the purchase will come from the development fund.

Important note about the north parcel

Staff anticipates this parcel will be maintained as-is until there is public process with the community and council direction on future land use.

This is good news – Restore Lilac Way will continue to rally the community, encouraging the city to maintain the land as park land and keeping the two parcels together.

Key info

  • The two parcels of land are near 28th and Toledo Avenue South.
  • The south parcel is 0.88 acres and includes the area now known as Rock Island Park, one of only two rock gardens remaining in MN. (The other rock garden is in Graeser Park in Robbinsdale, MN.) MnDOT offered to give the land to the city for $0, requiring the city use it for park purposes.
  • The north parcel is 0.81 acres, MnDOT offered to sell the north parcel to the city for fair market value of $187,000, the offer letter does not appear to include any use restrictions.
  • In addition to the $187,000 cost to acquire the north parcel from MnDOT, the city would incur  administrative costs and costs to maintain the property.
  • Funds for the purchase will come from the development fund.
Rock Island, June 2019. Volunteers have uncovered the paths. Only this north end of original 1939 Lilac Park remains.
Rock Island Park, May 24, 2023, new sign

MnDOT divided Rock Island Park into two separate land parcels in 2022.

The north parcel has a lovely meadow with open space and native habitat. The south parcel has the rare 1939 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 Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking north over the rock garden to open meadow.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking north over the rock garden to open meadow.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. Looking east over the rock garden, one of only two left in MN.
Rock Island, April 6, 2021. Post-MnDOT cleanup.
Rock Island Park, Sept. 8, 2021. The bench and waterfall wall with park's open meadow.

Browse the photo albums.

VIEW ROCK ISLAND’S ROCK GARDEN AND OPEN SPACES, SEPTEMBER 2021

BROWSE ALL ROCK ISLAND PHOTO ALBUMS

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.

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

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. Google map

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.
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