Sunfish Lake Park

Signage on the Trails

When you walk the trails in Sunfish Lake Park, look for the navigation signs and the QR code/compass direction indicators. The QR code links to the Trail Info page on this website, which will provide specific information about each marked point. The compass will help us who are directionally challenged to find our way, even on cloudy days!

Trail Map –

This link takes you to Judith Blackford’s  illuminated version:

history-of-sunfish-lake-park

The next link takes you to the attachments and appendices listed in the text, including the original packet for the bond issue, maps, and copies of petitions to keep various developments, out of the Park:

history-of-sunfish-lake-park_appx

The next link takes you to a 2015 document – a proposal for stewardship of Sunfish Lake Park written by the Lake Elmo Parks Commission. This document was not accepted by the City Council, but it contains good background information:

guide-to-the-development-usage-of-sunfish-lake-park

The next link takes you to the text of the Conservation Easement agreement:

Land Trust Conservation Easement, 2009 (pdf)

The next link takes you to the original 2011 Natural Resource Management Plan for SLP, and 2015 addendum to this plan :

Sunfish Lake

Sunfish Lake was probably created when the land was scraped by the most recent glacier, which melted out about 15,000 years ago. It collects water from approximately a square mile of surrounding agricultural and residential property, and part of the Park. The lake has a nominal extent of about 50 acres but the surface area is quite variable depending on the precipitation of the preceding couple of years.  In June 2018 we measured the deepest point as 16 feet, but the water level was quite a bit higher in early Summer 2021 – maybe 3-4 feet more, and has since receded significantly. These changes are especially noticeable at the northwest arm of the lake, which has gently sloping banks, so a small increase in water level results in a large change in surface area. The shoreline of the more southerly section tends to be more steeply banked. Our fish survey of June 2018 found only sunfish up to 7.5 inches long. If you will visit https://sminc-lake-elmo.org/natural-science-projects/ , and scroll down the page, you can download the survey report. Since that survey, it has been reported that carp (goldfish or koi) have been introduced – the survey should be re-done this year. If you are interested in participating, please email us at info@sminc-lake-elmo.org. There is ongoing work on the water quality of Sunfish Lake, details will be made available on the same website page when the work is at a reportable stage.

Excerpt from the “History of Sunfish Lake Park”

Compiled by Judith (Moris) Blackford, former Member of City of Lake Elmo Parks Commission

In 1974, the City of Lake Elmo Village Council, Planning Commission, and Park Advisory Board distributed a fact packet (Attachment A) to residents of the City describing a proposed $725,000 (equivalent to perhaps $5,000,000 today) Park Bond Budget. The elected and appointed City officials were proposing and seeking community financial support to purchase and preserve undeveloped farmland and private open space for City park use. The Lake Elmo Park Advisory Board members finding this parkland and working with landowners were Don Dau, David Morgan, Jess Mottaz, Mike Johnson, Ruthmary Logue, Ed Nielsen, and Diane Trudeau. Others mentioned in this fact packet were the City of Lake Elmo Village Council: Mayor Maynard Eder, Councilmen (Robert) Bruce Abercrombie, Calvin Brookman, Lloyd Sherwheim, and Francis Pott, and William Lundquist, Chair of the Planning/Zoning Commission. The Parks proposed and purchased through the passage of this Park Bond were Sunfish Lake Park, Demontreville Park, Reid Park, and Tablyn Park.

Most of the land selected for purchase had not been farmed and was not tillable due to woods, steep slopes and wetlands. The largest area of contiguous land was Sunfish Lake Park. At the time, some of the most desirable land was being considered for early housing development by Orrin Thompson Homes. The City packet mentions this as being a strong impetus to pass the bond before these potential park lands were lost forever.

This land purchased by the City for park use was sold at a substantial discount below the assessed valuations. The threat of seizing the lands by eminent domain was expressed by the City. Farm couples expressed their desires for preserving the land and for desired park usages (Appendix C). The bond issue presented to the taxpayers listed preservation of natural wilderness, hiking trails, nature areas, and cross-country skiing for Sunfish Park’s woods. By selling the lands which became Sunfish Lake Park at a discounted cost to the City of Lake Elmo for its citizens, landowners Lehart and Frances Friedrich, Mervin and May Nippoldt, William (Percy) Collopy, Everett and Evelyn Beaubien, William Sander, and Edward and Laverne Whitman lost opportunities for greater/later private-party offers. The sacrifice and generosity of all landowners was highly valued and contributed to the passage of the 1974 Park Bond Referendum.

Joseph and Charlotte Moris, Jr. were another farm couple presented with the City’s interest in purchasing a contiguous northern section of woods of the current Sunfish woods. In 1973, Michael J. Scanlan with the MN Chapter of The Nature Conservancy performed an inspection and report (Attachment B) of their woods, compiling an extensive catalogue of the flora and fauna. The report called these woods the best upland forest in the County with species of red maple, wild lily-of-the valley, bracken, and pyrola. Mr. Scanlan classified the soils as Edith sand and the topography as irregular. His report stated that the Moris family had preserved the land to date, and because of the irregularity of the topography and vulnerable sand, it should not be allowed that it be sold for parkland, but kept and used for only very occasional observation. In a May 21, 1990, report/catalogue (Attachment B) of this Moris contiguous woods, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) called it a high-quality, native forest, with recorded sightings of Blanding’s turtles and a Red-shouldered hawk in nearby woods, which were probably also in this woods, and therefore in Sunfish.

Fauna/Flora Sightings – by Judith (Moris) Blackford

My home is within the contiguous woods north of Sunfish. I’ve studied nature through weekly walks in Sunfish through every season for 30 years. The sightings were in Sunfish and our contiguous woods abutting Sunfish’s north border.

Fauna – Sunfish is home/haven to many creatures. Mammals: Deer, Coyote, Red/Gray Fox, Raccoon, Badger, Woodchuck, Muskrat, Northern River Otter, Mink, Weasel, Striped Skunk, Flying/Grey/Fox/Red Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk, Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Opossum and smaller animals.

Amphibians: Spring Peeper/Wood/Chorus/Leopard/Gray & Green Tree Frog, Tiger Salamander, American Toad, Painted/Snapping Turtle, Garter Snake.

Butterflies: Monarch, Viceroy, Mourning Cloak, Eastern Blue, Red Admiral, Common Sulphur, Cabbage White, Red-Spotted Purple, Common Banded Skipper, Question Mark, Comma, Painted Lady, Meadow Fritillary, Common Wood Nymph, Tiger Swallowtail, and Spicebush Swallowtail.

Birds: Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Barred/Grey/Screech owls, Red-tailed/Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawks, Pileated/Hairy/Downy/Redheaded/Golden-fronted/Northern Flicker Woodpeckers, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Crow, Eastern Blue Bird, Junco, White/Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Mourning Dove, Rose-breasted American Goldfinch, Whippoorwill, Red-winged Blackbird, Barn Swallow, Western Meadowlark, Bobolink, Killdeer, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Rubythroated Hummingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Pee-wee, Blackcapped Chickadee, House Finch, Common Redpoll, Rufous-sided Towhee, Wood Thrush, and many warblers. Water birds: Wood/Bufflehead and Mallard Ducks, Canadian Geese, Loon, Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, and Great Blue Heron. A pair of Bald Eagles has nested on various shores of Sunfish Lake since 1990.

(In 2009-2011, the following birds, in addition to those I mentioned above, were seen/heard by Linda Kellar, who has led Audubon groups on birding tours in Sunfish Lake Park; yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Kingbird, Great-crested/Least/Acadian/Alder Flycatcher, Tree/Barn Swallow, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Swainson’s Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, yellow-throated/Red-eyed/Warbling Vireo, Ovenbird, Common yellowthroat, Brown-headed Cowbird, Dickcissel, Northern Waterthrush, Savannah/Vesper/Chipping/Song/Clay-colored/White-throated/Lincoln’s Sparrow, Black and White/Hooded/yellow-rumped/Palm/yellow/Chestnutsided/Tennessee/Bay-breasted Warbler, and Orchard Oriole. A dead Great Horned Owl was also seen.)

Trees/shrubs – Paper Birch, Bur/White/Red Oak, Sugar/Black Maple, Black Cherry, Elm, Mountain Ash, Cottonwood, Cedar, Basswood, Aspen, Poplar, Black Walnut, and American Plum are some trees. Sumac, Bush Honeysuckle, Bayberry, Blackberry, Black Raspberry, Gooseberry, Dogwood, Prickly Ash and Bittersweet are some shrubs. I saw Hazelnut in the 1960’s.

My family has owned this land since 1958. Buckthorn was brought to America as an ornamental. It is now the most prolific, undesirable invasive in Sunfish’s woods and other woodlands. Oak Wilt and Dutch Elm disease have taken many trees. Emerald Ash Borer currently challenges trees.

Flowers/Herbs – Wild Geranium, Blue Flag Iris, Bloodroot, Large-flowered/Sessile-leaved Bellwort, False Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, Interrupted fern (other ferns as well), Greater Solomon’s Seal, Common Blue/yellow Violet, Canada/Wood/Rue Anemone, Wild Bergamot, Western Spiderwort, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Columbine, Hepatica, Wild Blue Phlox, Mullein, Milkweed, Canada Goldenrod, Tufted Vetch, Wild Strawberry and Ginseng. Yellow Lady-slipper, an orchid found growing in the contiguous Woods of Sunfish 50 years ago, still grows in contiguous private woodland gardens.

People – Sunfish Lake Park is a critical haven for people. Nature affords us that escape to the wilderness – that tonic that Thoreau spoke of – as being essential to man’s well-being. Communing with a wild deer brings one closer to our original place in nature, and it deeply resonates in our being that when we are in nature we are home. Perfumes of seasonal flowers and autumn stews of fallen leaves are nature’s aromatherapy. The wind whistling through pines, tambourining coins of aspen leaves, and frog, bird, and cricket choruses are nature’s meditative music. A pallette of golden aspen and crimson maples against autumn’s canvas of azure sky is nature’s masterpiece. Skiing or snow-shoeing on new snow under low-hanging, snow-cloaked branches creates an enveloping embrace of quiet, pristine beauty – a forever memory. The laughter of families sledding together carries on the wind to skiers. Introducing a child to nature’s wonders is a priceless gift. Being teacher and classroom, nature inspires orchestral music, paintings, poetry and many scientific inventions. Nature’s sensory and recreational gifts and solitude refresh mind, body and spirit – free, natural, holistic medicine.

Geology – The glacial history of these lands clearly leaves clues in the sandy/gravelly soils, the ridges and carved hollows, and the area’s glacial lakes/ponds: Sunfish Lake, Berschen’s Pond, Lake Elmo, Lake Jane, Lake Olsen, and Lake Demontreville. Some glacial rocks/boulders left on these lands are quartz, chert, agate, jasper, calcite, basalt, porphyry, rhyolite, granite, gneiss, slate, sandstone, conglomerate, shale, and limestone.

Summary

As residents and lovers of nature, we’ve left relatively dense stands of woods within Sunfish untouched for wildlife. We’ve cleared trails so that the beauties of the woods could be enjoyed. We’ve planted trees when water damaged existing trees. When trails needed grooming or damage occurred, we’ve tended the park with excellent care overseen by Mike Bouthilet (LE Parks Supervisor for 25 yrs). When needed, we’ve even curtailed/prohibited damaging usages that would have diminished Sunfish and left us poorer. We’ve tried to be good stewards of Sunfish Lake Park.

In 1974, Lake Elmo Park Commissioners and its citizens were visionaries in investing in the preservation of Sunfish’s beautiful wild places. Sunfish Lake Park has often been called the “Jewel” in our necklace of parks. At almost 300 acres, its quality/size for a city park are rare. On September 22, 2009, our finest park became permanently protected and preserved through legal placement into the Minnesota Land Trust that current and future generations of Lake Elmo City citizens may enjoy its beauty, wildlife, and passive recreational opportunities — our permanent slice of wild.

Sunfish’s enchanting beauty will easily claim your heart and loyalty (Attachment E). Like others, you will be quick to speak up for any needs this treasure might have in the future. It is like that, when you love something!

Family Nature Day beginnings

Family Nature Day, normally held on the first Saturday of June, began with the efforts of Judith Blackford in 2015. Here are some historical documents in Judith’s own words and works, and a report published in The Source (City of Lake Elmo newsletter ) for Summer 2015