From Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth, copyright © 2005, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota
Lester Park follows the Lester River upstream roughly a half mile starting a few blocks north of the river’s mouth. Its eastern boundary runs along Lester River Road, and it is bordered on the west by Amity Creek and Seven Bridges Road (see page 78). Lester measures forty-seven square acres; because it is adjacent to Amity Park, the two parks together create a green space that stretches from Superior Street all the way to Skyline Parkway. It has long been thought that the park was, like Chester Park, named for a homesteader, although some believe it was named for a five-year-old boy who drowned in the river. But long before Europeans reached the Lester’s banks the Ojibwe called it Busabikazibi, “river where water flows through a worn place in the rocks.” The park’s natural beauty includes several waterfalls and at least two swimming holes: the eastern branch’s “Shallows” and “The Deeps” of the western branch. Foot paths were groomed and bridges built so visitors, many of whom travelled by streetcar from central Duluth, could stroll through the park and across the river. Oriental Boulevard, a carriage path, ran through the park’s center between the Lester’s two branches; carriages could access the park over a bridge that connected with Occidental Boulevard.
At one time a development of summer homes, Pinehurst on the Lester, sat along the river’s east branch. They burned in the 1918 Cloquet Fire that roared through the region. Many of the park’s trees were also destroyed in the blaze, but most of the larger trees survived.
From 1897 until 1931 a handmade rustic bridge graced the park. The park was also home to the Lester Park Pavilion, operated by one Mr. L. A. Fungerson, which offered visitors a variety of ways to enjoy themselves, including a merry-go-round, refreshment parlors, a dance hall, a shooting gallery, and even a small zoo. Nearby stood Harmony Hall, decorated with the same Ojibwe designs that graced the pavilion and the bridge, and which also played host to dances and other social gatherings. Both the pavilion and Harmony Hall burned in the early years of the last century.
Today Lester includes miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails and a central park area outfitted with playground equipment, picnic tables and grills, and portable toilets in the summer. Hiking and ski trails lead along both Lester River and Amity Creek. Portions of the river run through a fairly deep gorge in parts of the park, and hikers can either stroll on the smooth trails above the river or along rough trails next to the water.
Trout fishing is still popular near the mouth of the Lester. Starting in the early 1940s, smelt (planted in Lake Superior earlier in the century) began appearing at the mouth of the river to spawn each spring. Hundreds of people would gather at the mouth of the Lester (and other Duluth creeks) during the smelt run, each netting pounds and pounds of the tiny silver fish. Other exotic species have dramatically reduced the smelt population since the 1980s.