Something for everyone

We get a lot in on our one-acre plot of land. With a mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits, there’s plenty to learn about year-round at the SMINC.

Indoor Exhibits

The artfully crafted display cases at the SMINC were truly a labor of love. Countless volunteer hours went into researching, writing text for signage, and building each one. In addition to our more permanent displays, we have a number of rotating and interactive displays set up throughout the building, as well as a library of field guides and other books for kids and adults to peruse.
Birds in the Park
Many bird species call Sunfish Lake Park home, some are here year-round, others just for the summer. Learn more about what our feathered neighbors eat, their nesting habits, and how to spot them out on the trail.
A Bee’s Life

How many eyes does a bee have? How much of your food depends on honeybees? When do honeybees sleep? Get answers to all these questions at our bee exhibit, and check out the year-round activity at our indoor apiary.



Buckthorn is an invasive plant species introduced to our region in the 1800s, and has run wild here at Sunfish Lake Park. Learn all about efforts the Friends of Lake Elmo’s Sunfish Lake Park has undertaken to eradicate buckthorn here, and what you can do to manage buckthorn in your property.

Prairie Restoration
In 2010, the City of Lake Elmo converted 17 acres of Sunfish Lake Park to a Prairie Restoration. SMINC has an exhibit explaining what a prairie is, and what lives there.
Geological History

Discover what’s under Sunfish Lake Park (WAY under!), and learn about the stages of glacier movement in our region, and how it affected this part of southeastern Minnesota specifically.

Forest Ecosystems

There are three types of forests in Sunfish Lake Park , oak/maple, aspen/birch, and pine. Each has its own unique and fascinating ecosystem.

Conservation of Soil and Water 

This exhibit is by and about the Valley Branch Watershed District and the Washington Conservation District. SMINC is grateful for the assistance of these organizations with installation of our Rain Gardens in 2019.

Wildflowers and Mushrooms
The forest floor teems with life, but a lot of what lives there is very good at hiding. Slow down, look down, and you’ll encounter some of wonderful and weird lifeforms.
Aquatic Life in Sunfish Lake Park

Sunfish Lake takes its name from the fish that make their home there. Once a dry lakebed, there are now all kinds of aquatic species there, from those sunnies to frogs and turtles, herons, ducks. and more recently goldfish.

Native Americans Then and Now
Brought to the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center by the Stillwater Schools Native American Parent Advisory Committee (NAPAC), this exhibit tells the story of the history and traditions of the Native people who call southeastern Minnesota home.
Sunfish Lake Park: a Community Effort

Sunfish Lake Park exists thanks to the efforts of many, including residents who sold their land to the City instead of a developer, officials who established Conservation Easement that ensures this land remains in a natural state in perpetuity, and all of the people who have dedicated countless volunteer hours to building and maintaining the park

Butterflies of Sunfish Lake Park (in storage)

Outdoor Exhibits

Our outdoor exhibits offer visitors an immersive experience in nature. Many with interactive functions, linked to QR coded signage, these exhibits let you stop, look, and learn something about the natural world around you.

Prairie Plant Specimen Walk

On the City’s restored 17-acre prairie, nature takes its course (with the help of prescribed burns), which means the any of the 29 added beautiful flower and plant species pop up where they will. On our accessible Prairie Planter Specimen path, you are able to see how they will look today. Then you walk out onto thee prairie,  where almost 15 years of natural selection has created quite a mixture. 

Apiary with Beehives

Our beehives produce honey, lots of it! Every August we extract part of what they make and process it. About 80 pounds per hive is left for their Winter food supply. We then offer jars of honey for a donation, to raise money for the center. It goes fast, though!

Tree Trek

A cooperative effort of the Washington County Master Gardeners Tree Squad and the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center, our Tree Trek follows a short path around the center, then along a wheelchair accessible trail into the Park, with information along the way about the various tree species that you will encounter.

Storybook Trail
As you take a walk, the story unfolds along a series of posted signs. Stories changed regularly with the seasons.
Eagle’s Nest

Not an actual eagle’s nest (we wish there was one of those here), but impressive none the less. Try to hatch the “eggs”

Monarch Waystation
Monarchs need our help, and we are trying to do our part by giving them a little place of refuge on their long migration.
Apothecary Garden

Many of the plants around us have medicinal purposes. This eagle-shaped display was developed as Carter’s Eagle Scout project with input from a Master Naturalist Teri and Lakota Medicine Man Paul,  to showcase the many healing and restorative plant species found in and around Minnesota.

Bluebird House Array

A dozen Bluebird houses were built by the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and installed along the borders of our leased acre, so you can easily observe the birds’ activity. The deer are also interested, and the occasionally enjoy the story stroll, especially when the story is “Bambi”

Three Sisters Garden

See our comparison of traditional and contemporary agricultural techniques. The three sisters (corn, beans, squash) assist each other in a traditional companion planting system. Contemporary local agriculture uses other methods to deal with nitrogen compound depletion and weed issues.

Rain Gardens

Our rain gardens were installed in 2019 with technical  assistance and a plant grant from the Washington Conservation District and Valley Branch Watershed District. They collect precipitation runoff from the land and allow it to permeate rather than run across the surface of the parking lot.

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