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Three Rivers Park District is a "special park district" serving the suburban areas of the Twin Cities including suburban Hennepin, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Ramsey counties. Three Rivers's mission is "[T]o promote environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural resources-based park system." Three Rivers operates twenty parks and ten regional trails, with at least two more regional trails planned. Nearly seven million people visit Three Rivers facilities each year.
A park system in Hennepin County outside of Minneapolis was proposed as early as 1901, but it was not until 1955 that the Minnesota Legislature passed the legislation that cleared the way to establish the park system in 1957. It was then known as the Hennepin County Park Reserve District. In its first decade, the Park District purchased nearly 21,000 acres (85 km2) of property, mostly farmland in Hennepin County's fast-growing suburban areas. In 1967, the Park District began efforts to restore wetland, prairie, woodland, and wildlife habitat to their natural state before 19th-century settlement. The district's policy is now that at least 80% of the land in a park reserve must be maintained or restored to its natural state, with only 20% of the land or less developed for recreation. Not all the parks in the system are park reserves; some of the smaller or more-developed parks are "regional parks".
Beginning in the 1970s, the district's focus shifted from land acquisition to development. The building of recreational facilities including park buildings, beaches, boat launches, paved trails for hiking and biking, and cross-country ski trails began in earnest.
In 2005 the park system was renamed Three Rivers Park District to better reflect the areas it serves. Each of the Park District's facilities has watersheds that flow into three rivers: the Mississippi, Minnesota and Crow. These rivers have historically been and continue to be significant in the lives of the region's residents.
The park system's current chair is John Gunyou.
Most Three Rivers Park District parks are open from 5 a.m. through 10 p.m.
Baker Park Reserve, with an area of 3,313 acres (13.41 km2), is located in Medina, Minnesota. Its highlights include the Baker Near-Wilderness Settlement retreat, available for use by families and groups, and Baker National Golf Course. It has 8 miles (13 km) of paved biking/hiking trails. There is a mountain biking trail available by special-use permit in the winter.
Bryant Lake Regional Park is located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and has an area of 170 acres (0.69 km2). It features a swimming beach on Bryant Lake, a disc golf course, and a mix of paved and unpaved trails.
With an area of 3,719 acres (15.05 km2), Carver Park Reserve is the second-largest park reserve in the system. Located near Victoria, Minnesota, in Carver County, it features the Lowry Nature Center with interpretive programs, nine miles (14 km) of paved biking/hiking trails, 22 miles (35 km) of unpaved hiking trails, and nine miles (14 km) of horse trails. It is also connected to the Southwest LRT Trail's northern branch.
Cleary Lake Regional Park is located near Prior Lake, in Scott County. Its 1,186 acres (4.80 km2) contain a nine-hole golf course, an off-leash pet exercise area, and four miles (6 km) of paved biking/hiking trails.
Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park is located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The dam, for which the park was named, was built by Northern States Power Company in 1913 for electrical power generation. Power generation was discontinued in 1966, so the dam is now used for recreation. Anoka County operates a park on its side of the dam. There is a pedestrian and bicycle walkway across the Dam. It also connects to the Elm Creek Regional Trail, which stretches six miles (10 km) across Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove to meet up with Elm Creek Park Reserve. This park and the Coon Rapids Dam East, a walk across the dam, are sites for the National Parks Passport Program for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
Located in Rogers, Minnesota, Crow-Hassan Park Reserve has an area of 2,597 acres (10.51 km2), including 600 acres (2.4 km2) of tall-grass prairie. The park features 18 miles (29 km) of unpaved hiking trails, 11 miles (18 km) of horse trails, and an off-leash dog area.
Elm Creek Park Reserve, at 5,315 acres (21.51 km2), is the largest park reserve in the system and occupies portions of Maple Grove, Champlin and Dayton. It features 19 miles (31 km) of paved biking/hiking trails, 21 miles (34 km) of horse trails, and a five mile (8 km) mountain bike trail. It also has a championship level disc golf course and a popular chlorinated swimming pond and a creative play area. A regional trail system connects Elm Creek Park Reserve to Fish Lake Regional Park and Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. In the winter, portions of the 11 miles (18 km) cross-country ski trail system are served by snowmaking. They also offer a snowtubing hill and a small downhill ski/snowboard area featuring a small terrain park. The Eastman Nature Center provides interpretive programs. This park also has more bike trails than all other parks in the park district, at 29.1 miles (46.8 km).
Fish Lake Regional Park is located in Maple Grove and offers boat access to Fish Lake, as well as a swimming beach and four-season pavilion.
Located on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Clifton E. French Regional Park (referred to locally as French Park) contains a popular creative play area and a large Nature Exploration Area, where patrons do not have to stay on paths and may do activities that are forbidden elsewhere in the park, such as digging or building forts. It also includes boat access to Medicine Lake. In the winter, it has six miles (10 km) of cross-country ski trails. The park is connected to Medicine Lake Regional Trail.
Gale Woods, located on the shores of Whaletale Lake in Minnetrista, is a working farm featuring interpretive programs where visitors can learn about agriculture and land stewardship. The farm is home to the Gale Woods Folk School, which offers classes in cooking and the fiber arts. The park also includes a barn-style pavilion overlooking the lake.
Glen Lake Golf and Practice Center is located on the boundary of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. It features a popular nine-hole golf course, along with a driving range and practice areas. It is built on the site of the former Glen Lake Sanatorium.
The Landing – Minnesota River Heritage Park, formerly Historic Murphy's Landing, in Shakopee, is a living history museum featuring a number of restored buildings from the 19th century. Interpreters in period clothing show visitors what life was like in the pioneering days of Minnesota. The site is open to the public from Memorial Day through October, and available for school groups from April through December. It also offers a popular "Folkways of the Holidays" program in December.
Hyland Lake Park Reserve, located in Bloomington, features the Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area, a downhill ski area with two terrain parks. The park is home to a massive creative play area that is a favorite of local residents.(pictured right). The ski area is popular for lessons and for its proximity to the metro area. On Hyland Lake at the playground there is a chalet with a concessions stand and tables and chairs. During the winter the chalet has cross country ski rentals. The rest of the park reserve's 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) contain nine miles (14 km) of paved biking/hiking trails and other unpaved hiking trails. In addition, the park features an 18-hole championship-level disc golf course playing along the ski slopes. The visitor's center offers boat and kayak rentals for use on Hyland Lake. In the winter, seven miles (11 km) of cross-country ski trails are offered, and some trails are lit for evening use. Hyland Lake Park Reserve also hosts Richardson Nature Center. The center offers live animal displays, interpretive nature programs and winter snowshoe rentals. The creative play in Hyland Lake Park Reserve features a wide variety of slides and other playground equipment. This playground is called "Chutes & Ladders" by Minnesotans because just the like the popular games it's massive playground is mostly ladders leading to chutes "slides".
Located in Minnetrista, Lake Minnetonka Regional Park is a relatively new park in the Three Rivers system. It offers a chlorinated sand-bottom swimming pond and a creative play area. It also provides boat access to Lake Minnetonka.
Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, in Greenfield and Independence, is a large park reserve with 2,577 acres (10.43 km2). It offers seven miles (11 km) of biking/hiking trails, 13 miles (21 km) of unpaved hiking trails, and a four mile (6 km) mountain bike trail. It also has a non-motorized lake for canoeing, rowing, and fishing. In the winter, there are 10 miles (16 km) of cross-country ski trails.
Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve, in Burnsville, Lakeville, Savage, and Credit River Township, features a hilly cross-country ski trail system and a hilly ten mile (16 km) singletrack mountain bike trail, maintained by Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists. The mountain bike trail is probably one of the most challenging trails in the Twin Cities due to its long climbs and rapid descents. The trail also includes natural and man-made obstacles such as rocks, wooden bridges, logs and stairsteps. The park reserve, at 2,786 acres (11.27 km2), also includes 14 miles (23 km) of horse trails, as well as bird watching. It is the only known nesting site of the hooded warbler in Minnesota. Also includes a hiking trail that is 3.1 miles (5.0 km) at the longest and 2.3 miles (3.7 km) at the shortest
Noerenberg Memorial Gardens, located in Orono, is considered one of Minnesota's finest formal public gardens. It was donated to the park reserve by the estate of Frederick Noerenberg, founder of the Grain Belt brewery. The gardens are open May through October for tours, programs, informal viewing, and weddings.
North Mississippi Regional Park is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River on the border of Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center. It has a scenic view of the river and surrounding woods, along with a paved biking/hiking trail that connects to the Minneapolis trail system and to the Anoka County Park trails that go north to the Coon Rapids Dam.
Silverwood is the park district's newest acquisition. Located on the northwest shore of Silver Lake in St. Anthony, it was formerly the site of the Salvation Army Silver Lake Camp. Silverwood serves as a regional center devoted to connecting the community with the natural world and artistic creation. Through a gallery space, an amphitheater, art circles, and classrooms, artists engage and inspire the community with exhibitions, creations, teaching and performance. The park also features a coffee shop specializing in local, natural, organic, and sustainable foods. Picnicking, hiking trails and fishing are also available.
Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail runs from downtown Minneapolis to Hopkins along former railroad lines. It connects to other trails including Luce Line Regional Trail, North Cedar Lake Regional Trail, and Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail. It is part of the Southwest LRT Trail
The Dakota Rail Regional Trail follows the former Dakota Rail Corridor along the north side of Lake Minnetonka. The trail runs 13.5 miles (21.7 km) from Wayzata southwest to St. Bonifacius.
The Lake Independence Regional Trail is a paved trail which runs from Crow-Hassan Park Reserve in Corcoran through Baker Park Reserve to the Luce Line State Trail in Orono.
Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail is a limestone trail which runs from Hopkins to Victoria, where it connects to Carver Park Reserve. It is part of the Southwest LRT Trail.
Luce Line Regional Trail is a paved trail which runs nine miles (14 km) from Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley to Plymouth, where it becomes the Luce Line State Trail. In Plymouth Luce Line Regional Trail connects with Medicine Lake Regional Trail.
Medicine Lake Regional Trail is a paved trail which runs from Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove to Luce Line Regional Trail on the south end of Medicine Lake. In between, the trail runs through Fish Lake Regional Park and Clifton E. French Regional Park. A short branch of the trail extends east of French Park into the surrounding neighborhood, ending at a city park.
Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail is a limestone trail which runs from Hopkins to Chanhassen along the former Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway line. In Hopkins the trail connects to Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail and North Cedar Lake Regional Trail. It is part of the Southwest LRT Trail.
North Cedar Lake Regional Trail is a paved trail which runs from Minneapolis to Hopkins, where it connects to Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail and Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail. North Cedar Lake Regional Trail forms part of the Cedar Lake Loop, along with Cedar Lake Regional Trail, Cedar Lake LRT Trail, Midtown Greenway, and the Kenilworth Trail.
Rush Creek Regional Trail is a paved six-mile (10 km) trail which connects Elm Creek Park Reserve and Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. It also connects to Shingle Creek Regional Trail, although three rivers is planning on extending the trail to Crow hassen regional park
Shingle Creek Regional Trail is a paved trail that runs from Rush Creek Regional Trail in Brooklyn Center down into Brooklyn Park, where it connects to local trails.
Basset Creek Regional Trail is a planned paved trail that will connect Clifton E. French Regional Park to Theodore Wirth Park. Trail bridges across Highway 169 and Highway 100 have already been completed as part of this project.
Crystal Lake Regional Trail is a planned 11-mile (18 km) paved trail from the Minneapolis Grand Rounds at Victory Memorial Parkway to Elm Creek Park Reserve. It will largely run parallel to the Bottineau Boulevard Corridor. Along its route the trail will connect to Rush Creek and Medicine Lake Regional Trails.