Rock Island’s volunteer cleanup efforts are on hold, group needed for MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program

Volunteers have been weeding and maintaining Lilac Way’s Rock Island for years. It is all that remains of the now-lost original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard.

Hidden behind a sound wall, this MnDOT-owned park includes a pond, island, curved bench and prairie field.

MnDOT recently informed us that due to liability concerns, volunteer cleanup efforts must stop.

Volunteer efforts can continue only if an individual, business or civic group steps forward to help save this historic Lilac Way park.

Rock Island is between a rock, a hard place and MnDOT.

The park in not eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places, and MnDOT prioritizes projects on the Registry.

MnDOT has planned Rock Island cleanup and stone repair in 2020-21, but cannot do ongoing maintenance.

We’re looking for help.

We are asking for a group or business to step forward to apply for Rock Island’s entry in MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program.

If that happens, volunteers could work in the park again under MnDOT’s program and guidance.

MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program requirements include
  • Businesses, civic groups, or individuals apply to improve areas along state highways
  • Development process includes submitting ideas/plans, applying for Highway Sponsorship license
  • Meeting with MnDOT to review plans
  • Sponsoring organization is responsible for underwriting the full cost landscaping design, purchase of plant material, installation and on-going maintenance activities
  • Agreement of sponsorship terms and conditions
  • $2 million in commercial general liability insurance, and other insurance requirements specified in license

Send us your ideas.

Restore Lilac Way will connect a group with Jessica Oh, Director of MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship Program. Contact Karen if you or your group is interested in saving this park.

What the City of St. Louis Park has said about Rock Island

In 2012, the City Council reached a consensus that staff resources or money should not be spent to restore Lilac Way’s Rock Island.

We’re hoping they will review and reconsider that decision to save this park built in 1939.

What is ‘Rock Island’?

This amazing rock island, AKA Monkey Island, was built in 1939 by the WPA. It has an oval pool, a 10′-long footbridge to an island and a stunning hand-built L-shaped stone bench. They are rare historical Lilac Way ‘parkitecture’.

After surviving 80+ years of Highway 100 construction, it deserves a second chance.

Watch the videos for a virtual tour.

Many original 1939 Lilac Way structures remain in Rock Island park, including an oval pool with a 20′ wide island, flagstone paths, a wrap-around stone bench, stone walls and landscaping.

Directions to Rock Island.

It’s even on Google maps! It’s located behind a sound wall near 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 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. There may be a slightly worn path through the grass.

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

Key Supporters

Michael Periolat, St. Louis Park resident
Resident Michael Periolat is interested in a grassroots movement to preserve Rock Island.

Growing up just four blocks from this park, Michael never knew it existed.

After buying his own home nearby, he discovered the park and is encouraging others to step forward to support preservation of this rare 1939 Lilac Way park.

Margaret Rog, St. Louis Park City Council Member, Ward 1
Margaret Rog, SLP Council Member has
  • proposed to colleagues that they discuss a commitment of resources to this park
  • raised issue of preserving park as a potential study session topic
  • recommended encouraging project supporters to email, meet with and contact council members, to increase chances of moving it forward
  • requested community feedback re: The City of SLP making a modest investment to preserve the historic area for kids, families, seniors and others to enjoy
Diane Steen-Hinderlie, St. Louis Park resident
Diane Steen-Hinderlie and her husband John Olson have
  • volunteered to maintain this park since 2009
  • cleaned, weeded and uncovered 1939 structures
  • saved sections of 62′ stone wall from road construction
Karen Laukkonen, Restore Lilac Way, St. Louis Park resident
Karen Laukkonen, restorelilacway.com has
  • documented Rock Island since 2007
  • raised awareness for preservation through restorelilacway.com, social media and presentations
  • created signage and displays

Rock Island’s large wraparound bench was handcrafted by unemployed stonemasons in 1939 from limestone quarried from the Minnesota River by the Mendota Bridge.

Rock Island Park 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 Park 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
  • Hand-built 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 Island section of the original Lilac Park on Minnetonka Boulevard in 1939?

Rock Island, June 18, 2020. Footbridge.
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 Park (AKA Monkey 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 garden, 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 Park (also known as Hidden Park-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 Park (also known as Hidden Park-Monkey Island)
  • Two sets of 5-6 stone steps lead down into rock garden 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
  • Not part of original Rock Island area, was formerly located in south picnic area where 29th Street meets Toledo Avenue
  • Was dismantled and moved to Rock Island area after picnic area of park was removed for road construction
  • 18″ thick
  • Built of tan, random ashlar, rock faced limestone
  • 62′ long, curved shape, runs at angle along crest of hill
  • Wall was anchored with stone piers at ends and at two pedestrian openings
  • Was originally longer and lined with a short, curved pull-off drive (from Toledo Avenue) that probably formed a parking area
  • Several feet of stonework from each end of wall were removed, and curved drive eliminated circa 1968 when an exit ramp from northbound Highway 100 was built through the site
  • Remains today, needs 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.