Parks Spotlight

This Woodbury-raised writer shares her favorite local picks for family fun.

Before I accepted my first real job as a morning news producer, before I said ‘I do’ to my farm boy-turned-city dweller husband, before I birthed three children of my own, I was just a knobby-kneed girl wearing a scrunchied side ponytail, tracing my name in the dusty dirt of a Woodbury softball field.  

And although I now live just a mere 25 miles west of Valley Creek Road and often find myself eating Sunday dinner at the place I used to call home, it’s rare that I explore my old hangouts. And by old hangouts, I mean the monkey bars with the bright red paint and twirly blue slide with the rainwater pooled at the bottom.    

So when Woodbury Magazine editor Debbie Musser asked if I wanted to tackle this piece—a spotlight on a few parks in Woodbury—I jumped at the chance. But, little did I know, this assignment would conjure up memories in my mind like a good raking does to a leaf-filled yard on a crisp fall day. This would be more than just an article. This would be a glimpse back into my childhood, through the eyes of my kids.

Shawnee Park
6515 Scheel Drive
Shamefully, I needed to use my GPS to get to Shawnee Park, my mind not quite able to remember the twists and turns of a Woodbury I used to know. But once I parked my car and got out, it was as if no time had passed and I was still that 8-year-old girl in a Woodbury Royals softball T-shirt and cutoff jean shorts.

Surrounded by bungalows and ramblers, mature trees and a small pond home to at least one turtle (we named him Rex), the charm and character are palpable. Shawnee Park is the second-oldest park in Woodbury, but to my three kids, it was brand new.

They loved the play structure, scrambling up and down the ladders and rock wall, hopping in and out of the swings and slipping down the swirly slides. We traipsed along the paved paths while I told them stories of days when I worked as a counselor at Camp Kumalya, a YMCA day camp that once made its home at Shawnee Park. I even made them sing old camp songs with me.

Carver Lake Park
3175 Century Ave South
As we wind our way to the next destination, Carver Lake Park, I again rely on my GPS to lead the way. Situated in the south side of Woodbury off of Lake Road and Interstate 494, Carver Lake Park sits on 150 acres of woods, bluffs and has a deep lake.

The beachfront wasn’t yet open to visitors (it opens Memorial Day each year), so we opted for the playground at the top of the hill, closest to the parking lot. Here we met Courtney Braatz, Woodbury resident, mom and Early Childhood Family Education parent educator. Braatz’s 4-year-old son joined my kids, chasing each other up ladders and down slides, pausing momentarily for a sip of juice or a handful of chips. The moms got down to business. Braatz coaches parents through toddlerhood—including all the tantrums, messes and sleepless nights—so teaming up with her on this assignment was a no-brainer.

Ojibway Park
2695 Ojibway Drive
As we wave goodbye to Braatz and her son (after diligent mom warnings) and drive northeast to Ojibway Park, I pull out all the stops to keep my three kids awake. We sing Raffi’s “Bananaphone,” an homage of sorts to my own childhood, which seems fitting on a day like this.

Ojibway Park is just as I remember it: paved paths, picnic tables and hockey rink still stand. But there’s one addition that wasn’t there when I was growing up: a skate plaza. Open from 6 a.m. to sunset, this has been a hot spot for skateboarders and inline skaters since opening in 2012.

Just south of the play area, you’ll find the Woodbury Lions Bandshell. That’s where we made a pit stop while the kids belted “Let It Go” on the stage. Besides impromptu performances from Frozen, the space features concerts and other events throughout the summer.

Healtheast Sports Center
4125 Radio Drive
There’s nothing quite like a Minnesota summer spent on a lake. Until you have kids. Then lakes become a bit terrifying and a concrete slab spraying recycled water sounds pretty darn good. Located on the south side of the HealthEast Sports Center field house, the splash pad (open 9 a.m.-9 p.m.) has two platforms full of dumping buckets, nozzles and flower showers. And there’s also the awesome new Madison’s Place, the east metro’s first completely handicapped-accessible playground, right next to the splash pad. This might be worth the drive all the way from St. Louis Park.

Powers Lake Park
10000 Brookview Road
Powers Lake Park has it all: eight picnic tables, plenty of green space, an awesome play structure and perhaps my kids’ favorite—a fishing pier. The DNR manages and stocks the lake with various species, like largemouth bass and yellow perch. Located just off Valley Creek Road and Woodbury Drive, this park is a popular destination for all ages.   
As we wrap up park hopping and head west for home, I glance in the backseat at my three snoozing babes. Although not much has changed at these local parks, everything has changed for me. Because now, instead of tracing Maggie in the dusty sand, I’m writing Mom.  

On the Agenda
Tips for a successful park outing.

Make sure you have enough time to play.
If you only have 15 minutes, steer clear of the park. Try to set aside a chunk of time to play so both you and the kids have fun. Word to the wise: leaving the park is never easy, no matter how much time you have. Braatz’s tip: “Give your kids a few warnings before you leave. It’s helpful to say, ‘Pick one more thing to do and then we’re going to walk to the car.’”

Place your focus on a future park play date.
Often what’s next on the agenda isn’t too exciting for a three-year-old who’s spent the last two hours playing hide-and-seek with his newfound best friend. Instead of focusing on the impending nap time or trip to the grocery store, enlighten him with a future park play date.

Bring a simple snack…for everyone.
Braatz packs yogurt, nuts, snack mix, and juice. But more importantly than what she packs is for whom she packs it. She always brings snacks for three to four kids so her son can share. Take that, hangry (hungry/angry) toddlers.

Keep a park bag at the ready, all summer long.
A bag filled with all the staples: sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bandages, tissues and bug spray is at the ready for Braatz to grab before embarking on a new adventure. “It lives in our back hall all summer long,” she says.

For more information on the many parks located throughout Woodbury, visit the website here.