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Eden Prairie / Minnetonka, Minnesota
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September 16, 2002

The Friends of Birch Island Woods are appraising the possible designation of the Birch Island Woods, Lake and Park area as a heritage district. We are gathering ideas on how it might work, introducing the idea to various community groups, businesses, non-profit organizations, home owners and government agencies and taking measure of their thoughts and interest.

The Birch Island area exhibits a sense of place embodied in the shared history of its cluster of resources including its scenic landscapes, historic buildings and sites, neighborhoods, businesses and traditions. “No where else in Eden Prairie”, says BIW co-leader Jeff Strate, “can so many historic sites be found in their original settings.” In addition to its natural resources and environmental functions, the area harbors 5,000 years of human history ranging from stone age native American culture through early railroading, Czech raspberry farming, tuberculosis treatment to a lovely, late 1950’s era suburban neighborhood.

What Would Be In the District?

The district’s boundary would follow Kurtz Lane, Birch Island Road, Eden Prairie Road, Indian Chief Road and Edenvale Boulevard. This area includes approximately (a) 137 publicly owned acres, (b) 15 privately-owned acres some of which is farmed and some of which could be added to the BIW conservation area, and (c) a variety of privately-owned residential and business properties.

  • Birch Island Woods, Lake and Woods including the Eden Wood Center,
    Glen Lake Children’s Camp (1925, listed on the
    National Registry of Historic Places), Holasek House (1882),
    Native American archaeological sites and the main trail of the Birch Island
    Woods - the original roadbed of the precursor to the Milwaukee RR (c. 1881).
  • Picha Heritage Farm (1903) on Birch Island Road
  • Kutcher Homestead (1897) on Eden Prairie Road
  • Lengths of the SW Regional Trail, the Twin Cities & Western RR
  • Glen Lake Golf Course / Hennepin County-owned wetlands.

Note: A larger district could include the following areas:

  1. Kingswood neighborhood east of Bent Creek Golf Course.
  2. Sections of the Glen Lake area in Minnetonka including the Glen Lake Golf and Practice Center, Hennepin County Home School, Glen Lake wetlands, Skyridge Business Center and various historic homes, sites and neighborhoods.
  3. Business and industrial zones along Carlson, Brury and Industrial Roads east of the Birch Island Woods and Glen Lake Golf Course.

Click here to learn more about these places


What Are the Benefits?

A heritage district designation would help spark community pride and coordinate stewardship and promotion of the area by providing its cluster of resources with:

  1. A distinct branding identity which could at least be represented by special street signs, brochures, a website and maps and possibly
  2. An association of stakeholders including landowners; non-profit governmental, recreational, environmental; residential, human service and historical entities and businesses. The association would be governed by an advisory board.

The association’s advisory board would,

  1. Develop a mission statement and a set of voluntary guidelines for landscaping and development and redevelopment projects within the area,
  2. Participate in ongoing meetings ( 2 or 3 times a year) to discuss issues pertaining to the well being of the district.
  3. Coordinate fund raising activities and events pertaining to the stewardship of the area and promotion of the area.

Entities which might be interested in participating would include:

  • Friendship Ventures which runs programs for special needs kids at the Eden Wood Center in Birch Island Park
  • Citizen and neighborhood groups: Edenvale Conservation Group, Friends, Trails Without Rails, home owner associations.
  • Non-profit charitable agencies and groups: Friendship Ventures (operates the Eden Wood Center, Friends of Birch Island Woods, Eden Prairie Historical Society.
  • Government agencies:
    • City of Eden Prairie (owns the park and conservation area)
    • Three Rivers Park District (manages the SW Regional Trail and Glen Lake Golf Course)
    • Hennepin County (owns the SW Regional Trail
    • Glen Lake Golf Course, Home School and a number of detached parcels in the area.)
    • Nine Mile Creek Watershed District (oversees water resources in the area).
  • Businesses: Picha Heritage Farm, Twin Cities and Western Rail Road, SW Metro Transit, Midwest Asphalt and Edenvale Business Center.

What about existing restrictions and designations?

The district would complement, not replace, existing park, open space and historic designations and land use ordinances and zoning and would not necessarily require a change in the city’s comprehensive guide plan.

How and when will the “Birch Island Heritage District” concept be adopted?

The concept of the proposed heritage district is being presented to current stakeholders in the Birch Island and Glen Lake areas. It is a work-in-progress which will be crafted and fine-tuned to reflect what is learned from the stakeholders and from heritage districts elsewhere. A target date has not been set for the implementation of the heritage district.

If sufficient interest in a heritage district can be demonstrated --

  1. The Eden Prairie City Council may be asked to organize a task force to study and make recommendations for the implementation of the district as a function of the City or
  2. The interested stake holders may simply wish to operate as an association independent of the City but with the City as a participant.

For an early article on the proposed district, read Merrily Helgeson’s EP Sun Current article.

More About Heritage Districts

The concept for a Birch Island Area “Heritage District” borrows the branding techniques used by St. Louis Park, Minneapolis and other Minnesota cities to showcase special neighborhoods and is grounded in the “Heritage Area” programs developed by the National Park Service and adopted in Maryland and elsewhere.

Although the Birch Island Heritage District would be a much smaller version of the heritage areas in other states, you can discover what they’re about by visiting the following websites.

Maryland Historical Trust

National Park Service Heritage Areas

Heritage Area Q&A’s from the National Park Service

Q. Why do communities benefit from designation as a "heritage area"?

A. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and its interest in seeing them retained along with the evidence of them as projected by generations of activity on the landscape.

Preserving the integrity of the cultural landscape and local stories means that future generations of the community will be able to understand and define who they are, where they come from, and what ties them to their home.

Heritage areas thus offer the potential to ensure key educational and inspirational opportunities in perpetuity, without compromising traditional local control over, and use of, the landscape.

Q. What is a "heritage area"?

A. The culture of a community is shaped by the local environment and topography, and the patterns of human activity which define that culture are recorded on the land. Thus, a "cultural landscape" arises, reflecting this ongoing interrelationship between people and the land.

Most of our city’s unique cultural landscapes have been altered through development or neglect. The heritage area concept offers an innovative method for citizens, in partnership with various units of government, and nonprofit and private sector interests, to develop a plan and an implementation strategy focused on conserving the special qualities our local cultural landscape.

Q. What are the benefits of a partnership to conserve heritage areas?

A. The partnership approach generates opportunities for creative input on the desired future of a community from a broad range of constituents and their diverse perspectives. The participants are able to continually refresh their own perspective on the sense of place they seek to preserve.

Q. What more should we know about heritage district management entity?

A management entity -- a local agency, a commission, or a private nonprofit corporation -- could be empowered to create a management plan for the heritage area and to seek funding for projects.

The management plan would describe the ways the management entity and other interested participants within the heritage area can work together toward the fulfillment of their common vision. Typical actions suggested by a management plan might include developing a visitor's guide publication, rehabilitating an important building or site, or creating a walking trail through an important area.

The authority to implement the management plan rests in the hands of the City..

The compact is a statement of assent to mutually shared goals, and also serves as the legal vehicle through which public funds can be passed to non-governmental management entities.

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