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Woods Op Ed

Find below published opinions, editorials, letters, commentaries and columns about Birch Island Woods

Note: Writer Lyn Jerde's wistful apologia for a simpler environment for our kids should have resonance for those who question the fast tracking aggressiveness and complexity of suburban life. Ms. Jerde is the Community Editor of the Eden Prairie Sun Current.

A town for kids, in the imagination of a former kid

(Created: Wednesday, May 3, 2006 10:52 PM CDT)

Not long ago, in a town not too far away (it's in the Central Time Zone, anyway), there lived a city council with a fresh idea.
When contemplating new equipment for the city park's playground, council members asked, why not let the kids who will play with it design it? And why not name it Kid Town? So the kids went to their drawing board (did it come with washable markers and crayons?), and designed something that looked for all the world like a giant castle. Though it would not surprise me if one wiseacre kid might have incorporated a dungeon or a piranha-filled moat into the design, that did not happen. But all other castle features - the drawbridges, the towers, the parapets - were built in. To my knowledge, youngsters played there happily ever after. It made me wonder: If kids could design a real Kid Town - a whole town, not just an acre in a park - what would it look like?

I have no kids, but I used to be a kid. And if it were my drawing board, and my washable markers, I can tell you, right off the bat, what would and would not be in my design. There would be sports. Few organized sports. A lot of unorganized sports. For the occasional budding Gretzky, who had both the talent and the desire (his own, not his parents') to play at a higher level, I would incorporate into my Kid Town maybe one indoor rink, or one outdoor refrigerated rink. So, if a grade-schooler loves hockey enough to get up before the sun, and to haul an equipment bag bigger than himself to a before-school practice, that opportunity would be available.

But for kids who lack NHL aspirations, there'd be a pond that is more or less smooth when frozen. There, they could try out the skates they got for Christmas, if they don't mind dodging a group of teenagers playing pickup hockey, with homemade sticks and a puck made of heaven knows what. And, for baseball-softball players not inclined toward structured practices or a travel schedule, there would be a vacant lot within an easy walk of home, where kids from age 3 to 18 - as few as 10 of them - could play what my brothers, friends and I used to call "worky-up." A player would start in right field, then rotate positions with each new batter, until moving from the pitcher's mound to the batter's box, then back to right field.

Not all sports would involve teams or games. Bike-riding is a sport. And in my Kid Town, every kid would have a bike.
One feature of my Kid Town, which I didn't have when I was a kid, would be a system of bike trails. I rode on the streets of Des Moines and the country roads of Iowa - scenic and exhilarating at times, but not as safe as I'd want for any young person today. I would, however, wish for today's kids the freedom I had to explore on my own, for hours at a time. Carrying nothing except my school's student phone directory and maybe a peanut butter sandwich in a paper bag, I would set out to ride my bike past the houses of all the kids in my homeroom in one afternoon.

And, for kids of today, I'd wish for places to explore that not even a state-of-the-art mountain bike could reach.
Woods. Creeks. Tree forts. Fallen trees. Yes, the woods might have poison ivy. Yes, the creek might run a little high after a big rain. Yes, the tree fort might have a few rusty nails falling from it like ripened acorns. In my Kid Town, moms and dads would warn us about such hazards, but not shield us from them. There would be butterflies to chase, rocks to collect, frogs and dragonflies to observe, ant colonies to stare at for hours. For a place to sit and think about nothing in particular, my Kid Town would include a dead fallen tree with an overhanging branch just strong enough to support someone smaller than 100 pounds, but flexible enough to provide a bouncy perch. And, since this is my fantasy, I'd make every day in my Kid Town just like the day on which I write this - warm but not too hot, sunny, a little breezy.
One can dream. Or remember. Or a little bit of both.

Lyn Jerde is community editor of the Eden Prairie Sun-Current.

December 8, 2005

Speak out against encroachment

A few of our residents seem to think it is OK to treat city property as their personal space. In cases where that property is set aside to create a natural habitat or protective shoreline boundary, the encroachments frequently change the function of the area into an extension of the resident's lawn or garden. This is not only unlawful and disrespectful, but unhealthful and truly unfortunate – our collection of naturalized areas is a large part of what makes Eden Prairie beautiful, valuable and exceptional.

The most well-publicized case of this is the man who removed 37 trees blocking his views of Anderson Lake. These were mature trees that will take years to grow back. Unfortunately, many of our neighbors are doing similar things on a smaller scale.

These neighbors prune our city trees (disregarding time-of-year concerns for the spread of such diseases as oak wilt and Dutch elm, as well as a tree's natural growth cycle). They tear out native habitat to improve their views and put in their preferred nonnative plantings. These folks may even build structures and brick pathways on city property.

The repercussions of this are expensive to our city financially and ecologically. When people tear out habitats, it deprives wildlife of food and shelter and it deprives humans of the natural beauty of a native site and the wildlife therein. When trees are mortally damaged by incorrect pruning (or a resultant disease) the city must foot the expensive bill for their removal. And a mature tree takes years to replace and, if planted by the city, costs us all money. When shoreline buffer zones are removed, man-made chemicals are more likely to pollute the waterway, making it dirtier and more hazardous for fish and other wildlife as well as the people who use the water for recreation or as a food source. And the legal issues of shelters built on city property are almost too numerous to mention: Who will pay to maintain or tear down these structures? Who will pay if someone is injured by these structures and the city is sued? Who will pay if the structures are damaged by a public user?

The city writes informational and warning letters, but a hardcore group does not seem to care. City officials have gone out to the property to talk directly to some of these offenders. This is a tough job because our representatives are sometimes met with belligerence, and, too frequently, ignored. When the city has attempted to clarify their boundaries by doing a survey and setting stakes, some of these stakes have been moved or torn out entirely. These behaviors are unacceptable. This is property that is set aside to benefit all of us, and it needs to be defended more effectively.

It is time for the city to take legal measures to protect our collective interests. We must make our policies clear, and then enforce them. If the resident won't return the property to its natural state, then the city must do so and bill the encroacher (perhaps adding the cost to their property taxes). If people remove survey stakes, the city must replace them and, again, bill the criminal owner for removing them.

The city is you and me. The silent majority of us who love the beauty of wildlife, wild land and clean water must speak up to let city officials know that we do care. If we act now and act effectively, we won't have to do what many cities are in the process of doing – that is attempting to reclaim their natural areas and recreate wetlands and natural shoreline boundaries.
Karen Rylander
Eden Prairie

November 18, 2004


For two years I have been following the Friends of Birch Island
Woods' efforts to obtain the four acres of land needed to save the Birch Island Woods area and the 100-year-old Picha farm from development. The efforts of our parks director to obtain the 4 acres have been minimal at best.

Recently (Oct. 28, EP News) our Parks Director Bob Lambert made the statement regarding this effort, "It didn't happen, so let's move on."

I find that statement appalling coming from the person who is suppose to obtain, maintain and improve our park system. If I were the city manager, Mr. Lambert would be replaced for making a comment like that. It shows lack of effort and lack of care for the land, and the people who live in Eden Prairie.

He seems to have the interest of the developers at hand, instead of the interest of the residents of Eden Prairie.

The city has spent tens of thousands of dollars on survey's asking what the residents care about the most.

EVERY survey found "saving open spaces" in the top three answers. Mr. Lambert and the city have a mandate from the people to save these spaces, by any means, whatever it takes.

We need a parks director who will not give up and try to find any way possible to purchase this property. We do not need a parks director saying it can't be done, let the bulldozers have at it.

Mr. Lambert also opposed putting the purchase of parkland on a separate question in the May 11 referendum. Why? It certainly would have passed.

Mr. Lambert should explore every possibility to obtain the four acres in question, not give up and let the bulldozers destroy what little open land this city has left.

There are alternative solutions to every problem. The parcel others are trying to save is only four acres in size. Our parks director should be leading the effort to save this land, not saying it can't be done. I don't believe Mr. Lambert can't find other ways to purchase this land. That's what he's paid for.

If Mr. Lambert can back spending several million dollars on a water park, certainly he can find ways to fund purchasing four acres of land.

The needs of the many out weigh the needs of a few.

Mr. Lambert needs seems to have forgotten that.

Larry Peterson
Eden Prairie

November 18, 2004


To the editor:

So now the city is considering sites in three conservation
areas and Staring Lake Park for dogs to run unleashed. Richard T. Anderson must be turning over in his grave.

The city honors the former council member for his environmental record by naming a conservation area after him on one side of town, and then Parks and Recreation Director Bob Lambert nominates a conservation area in Anderson¹s part of town for reclassification as a dog park.

That sanctuary, Birch Island Woods, was created only after a campaign involving hundreds of people, not a few of whom live in Anderson¹s Kingswood neighborhood ­ and not a few of whom leash their dogs for walks through the woods.

I am among those who have persevered a few patronizing and self-important past key officials, who I suspect in their guts don¹t really appreciate the Dick Andersons of this world.

I was a member of the citizen task force that developed the City Council-approved plan for Birch Island Woods ­ a plan that calls for keeping the 32-acre tract natural and permitting only leashed dogs.

Birch Island Woods is among the last areas in Eden Prairie that supports a menagerie of woodland and wetland animals and birds. These include deer, fox, muskrat, coyote, groundhog and muskrat, as well as wild turkey, woodcock, bluebirds, pheasant and pileated woodpecker ­ plus owls, hawks and eagle that prey on the smaller animals.

Increasing numbers of unleashed dogs will drive these animals out, and trample native wildflowers such as ladyslippers, blazing star and coneflowers.

Mr. Lambert is reported to have told the parks commission that many people have been walking their dogs leash-free through the area anyway. Not so fast. In the two years that the woods have been protected as a conservation area, the city has failed to provide it with any leash law signs. Pet owners who drive in or live nearby may be unaware of the leash law. Who can blame them?

The large majority of the dog walkers I see during by daily visits to the woods use leashes. I believe they respect the environment and other visitors ­ the special-needs children from Eden Wood; the bicyclists and hikers from all over town; the Boy Scouts, who build woodchip trails; the hundreds of volunteers who remove buckthorn and pick up litter; the parents who feel better about life knowing that their kids can see a fox and hear an owl on a single walk.

I am very uncomfortable with the fact that there is an individual on city staff who doesn¹t appreciate or want to protect this unique treasure in Eden Prairie.

Vicky Miller
Eden Prairie

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