ST. PETER — It's one of the biggest city parks almost no one uses, and a group of St. Peter residents plans to change that.
"It's a lot of land, 380 acres," Dave Newell said of Traverse des Sioux Park, located adjacent to the Treaty Site History Center on the north end of St. Peter.
"There are a lot of big trees, level ground, oxbows and great views of the river. There's a lot of wildlife. It's a great place for nature lovers."
Ben Leonard, director of the Nicollet County Historical Society located at the Treaty Site Center, said walking into the wooded park quickly takes you away from the bustle of town.
"For being less than a mile off 169 it's a whole 'nother world. I see deer, otter, herons. It's just a quiet area."
The area has significant historical importance. The bed of the Minnesota River in that area is shallower and has a hard rocky bottom, making it a popular spot for Dakota Indians and early settlers to cross the river. Traverse des Sioux means "crossing of the Sioux."
Leonard said having the trail system, with the Treaty Site serving as the trail head, will benefit the center. "I think the trails will make the Treaty Center more of a destination."
Leonard and Newell, who works at Gustavus, began talking several years ago about restoring a trail system in the park to allow people to enjoy it. The park had trails — mostly used for snowmobiling — but the 1998 tornado heavily damaged them and they were never fully brought back. Paul Hanson and Dan Oachs, avid mountain bikers and St. Peter natives, also got involved early on in the project.
A small group of volunteers has already begun building a hard-packed dirt trail system that will eventually be 12-15 miles long and consist of six loops. The stacked loop system allows users to just use one loop or continue on into another loop as all the loops will be connected.