2013 Best Playground: Lake Hiawatha Park

Hiawatha Context
Lake Hiawatha is an easily overlooked member of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, but that has always been one of its most appealing characteristics. Lacking the hustle and bustle of Lake Calhoun, the poshness of Lake of the Isles, or even the size of Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha has a sleepy and natural feel that is a welcome change of pace. It owes much of this to the details of its context. To its west is the Hiawatha Golf Course, a large open space that has relatively small numbers of users at any given time. It is directly north of Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Parkway, but unlike Nokomis Park which is right off Cedar Avenue, it’s busiest adjacent road is 28th Avenue, which has much lazier traffic flow. These factors, along with the wide native shorelines, wetlands, streams, and dense tree canopy make for a very quiet and contemplative park experience. Yet what makes the park feel most relaxing is the comparative lack of people. Aside from the person fishing from their canoe on the lake, the odd jogger, or the family pushing a stroller around the lake, it often feels like you have the place all to yourself even on a beautiful summer day.

Lake Hiawatha Playgrounds
Like the park itself, the playground stands out more for what it is not. It is tucked into the northeast corner of the park and was reconstructed in 2001 with improved play structures. The structures are appropriate for children of a variety of ages and there is a wading pool with an array of fountains and water jets.

New splash pad
These amenities are not particularly outstanding and are easily outshined by more extravagant play structures and water features at other playgrounds. Yet when visiting the place, my children and I often have way more fun than we do at fancier and more elaborate play areas. One of the features is that the whole space is quite compact, which combined with the lack of crowding makes it an easy place to keep track of your children. While that may seem like a trivial consideration, this also speaks to the amount of attention and involvement that as a parent you are able to exercise while playing with your child. It is a more intimate space that is not overstimulating to the point that everyone ends up riding home in tears. As a contrast, the playground at Lake Calhoun and 32nd Street has similar facilities, but has a busy bike/pedestrian path, a beach next door, and all kinds of boats zipping around. This makes for a very dynamic and exciting playground, but a less relaxing and contemplative one. To be fair, there is a time and a place for each, but in 2013 I think it makes sense to recognize an offbeat playground that is a great place to kill some time and take it easy.

The Lake Hiawatha Playground is a hidden gem that is well worth the trip when paired with a leisurely stroll around the lake. Plus (as the nominating party pointed out), the other great benefit is being able to stop by The Baker’s Wife on the way home to pick up a tasty pastry. A surefire way to make sure you have a happy ride home.

4 thoughts on “2013 Best Playground: Lake Hiawatha Park

  1. Shirley Yeoman

    The Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association is quite proud to have been involved with the transformation of this playground. We allotted over $350,000 of Neighborhood Revitalization Plan dollars to assist with this project in 2000-2001. Many parents who used the playground were involved in the assessment and planning. If you look at page 15 of our NRP Full Plan Evaluation document – http://www.standish-ericsson.org/uploads/1/0/4/4/10447747/sena_nrp_full_eval.pdf – you can see a “before” photo – when the playground was made up of huge cement tubes and splinter-producing wooden structures. Thanks for calling attention to this great space.

  2. Kyle Werremeyer

    I do not believe that Lake Hiawatha nor Lake Nokomis are technically part of the Minneapolis Chain Of Lakes, and that is probably one of the reasons Lake Hiawatha, the golf course, and Lake Hiawatha Park have that appropriately lazy and relaxed feel. Certainly that lack of attention provides for a relaxed atmosphere, but lacking that highfalutin “Chain o’ Lakes” title also means the neighborhoods have had to beg, borrow and steal a bit to see updates and maintenance.

    Now, take a drive along 28th Ave S and ask yourself what would one of the properties or lots on the east side of the Lake go for (with that amazing view) if that was Calhoun or Harriet? Would a million be an exaggeration? Perhaps yes, but there is tremendous built-in and pent up value around the Lake. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to impact the mill and overlay of 28th Ave S last fall and change traffic patterns or install a central median with plantings to further increase the values along the lake. You win some, you lose some.

    However, the local neighborhood is taking notice – for instance, one of the SENA Big Idea winners was an investment in the beach at Lake Hiawatha. This beach has been a long time (slight) eyesore considering the attractiveness of the general area. There is muddy sand, intrusive weeds on the beach and in the water, the infamous Lake Hiawatha poor water quality, and lack of lifeguards make it a dicey family beach – especially when taking the great beaches at Nokomis into account. I’ve actually arranged volunteer clean-ups of the lakeside, used my personal leaf blower to clear the sand off the walkways back into the sand boxes at the playground, and tried mightily to personally improve the horseshoe pits. I had little luck with the horseshoe pit as the ground is like concrete but someday my dream of a neighborhood Hiawatha Summer Horseshoe League will come true! Maybe a newly elected Park Board Commissioner will be the difference as the last Commissioner was often…………. difficult to engage with.

    SENA could also use a ten-fold increase in people willing to volunteer their time, not just their opinion. For a number of years now the neighborhood has made inquiries with the Park Board to rake the beach or add more sand, and also put out feelers to see if we could build a Friends of Lake Hiawatha Committee, neither of which gained much traction. There has also been an informal conversation about building some sand volleyball courts at the corner of 28th Ave S and 44th St that may attract a little more youthful energy to the area.

    The city just completed a seven (?) year storm water management project in the neighborhood of which the last project was limiting storm water run-off into Lake Hiawatha via new sewers, a rain garden on 43rd and dredging the water holding ponds on the golf course. Now Minnehaha Creek will always be the reason for the poor water quality of Lake Hiawatha but every fix does help. The neighborhood is taking a long term view of the area: for instance that storm water rain garden at 20th/21st Ave S and 43rd Street was specifically designed to incorporate a future walking path as one of the long term neighborhood goals is the have a walking path circle the whole lake and golf course. That type of pre-planning is a must if the future is to be brighter than the past at Lake Hiawatha and Hiawatha Park.

    (Heck, one day maybe there’s a band shell close to the field-house, and maybe a small seasonal TinSaltBox stand at the park. No reason not to take advantage of the best little small lake and park in SMPLS. No reason I have to drive to listen to tunes, enjoy the sunset, and have a Furious)

  3. Samuel GeerSamuel Geer Post author


    Thanks for the in depth take on the issues surrounding Lake Hiawatha and it’s park. It’s very interesting that these lakes are not technically part of the “Chain of Lakes” when they are part of the Grand Rounds and are all connected to Minnehaha Creek. Your dedication brings into focus that investment in the facilities and detailed long range planning would really improve the experience of the park even more.


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