About Us

The Mission of the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center:

  • Stand as a symbol of the Stewardship of our community for its natural surroundings and heritage,
  • Serve as a focus of community activities related to outdoor life,
  • Provide a place where people of all ages can learn about the unique natural history and ongoing ecology of Sunfish Lake Park,
  • Teach general environmental awareness via specific local examples,
  • Honor the agricultural heritage of Lake Elmo.

Friends of Lake Elmo’s Sunfish Lake Park is a Minnesota Non-Profit Corporation established October 10, 2016 to build and operate the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center in the Park. It was granted the status of a 501c3 public charity by the IRS in February 2017, and accepts tax-deductible donations.

Sally Manzara (1944-2015) was a teacher, librarian, community and church volunteer. She believed that everyone should have an opportunity for education. She loved birdwatching, nature centers, gift shops in museums, and Sunfish Lake Park.

The idea of the Nature Center arose after Sally had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2012 and given “4 months, maybe 6” to live. With the prayers of many friends and family members, good medical care, and a strong spirit, she survived for two and a half years. Sally and Tony Manzara had saved for travel during retirement, but even before the time she entered hospice care, she was  no longer able to travel. She agreed that the money saved for her travel during retirement should be used as seed money for building a nature center in the park she loved.

After Sally died, Tony offered to build a nature center for the City of Lake Elmo in Sunfish Lake Park. City officials were enthusiastic about the idea of a nature center but did not want to take on the responsibility for operating it.

On April 26, 2015,  Tony attended a Parish Dinner at Guardian Angels Church and one of the servers was Connie Kirk.  Connie, Sally, and Tony had worked together on a church committee in the late 1980’s and got to know each other well. But in the 1990’s we went to different parishes, and Tony had not seen Connie in many years. During dinner Tony told Connie about the idea of the nature center and she was very interested in what programs would take place there. He invited her to come over and see the nature center plans, she made some great suggestions for improvements that would allow the building to “become alive”.  To spare you the details, Connie and Tony married in November 2016! We talk about the fact that the three of us are working together to make a dream come true – Connie is doing the outreach, Tony is doing the construction, and Sally is up there inspiring people to join us and contribute their talents.

An alternative plan was proposed to the City, that Tony would start a non-profit organization to build and operate a nature center if the City would lease the organization an acre of Sunfish Lake Park for the site.  It took about two years to negotiate the details and on April 18, 2017 the City Council voted unanimously to accept the lease agreement. Then a set of architectural plans was drawn up for approvals and permits.

Sunfish Lake Park is protected by a Conservation Easement administered by the Minnesota Land Trust. This legal document enshrines the intentions of the families who originally contributed their land to the City at below-market prices to avoid having it filled with houses. The Conservation Easement drafters envisioned a “nature interpretive center” in Area 2 of the Park – the space adjacent to the parking lot. We went to the Land Trust staff in July 2017 and presented the plans for the nature center, which they approved, after which the City Council also approved the plans on August 15, 2017.  The Groundbreaking Celebration was held on September 10, 2017 with a dedication, a Raptor Center show and a visit by Emy from Carpenter Nature Center.

With the efforts of good contractors and over 2000 hours of donated labor, the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center celebrated its Grand Opening on June 2, 2018.

Please click on the Picture Gallery tab to see the beautiful day we had for the Groundbreaking, a variety of construction pictures, and some from the Grand Opening.