Duluth’s Undeveloped Parks
Oneota Forest Park
Oneota Forest Park surrounds a portion of Skyline Parkway between Highland Street and Haines Road and includes Oneota Park, Ericson Place, Bellevue Park, and Brewer Park. Over 90 percent of the 1,123 acres are on state property.
Bellevue Park, just three acres of land purchased in 1889 for the future expansion of Duluth’s boulevard system, rests on either side of Skyline Parkway and within the larger Brewer Park, which includes more than forty acres of undeveloped land above and below Skyline Parkway between Keene and Merritt Creeks. This property was donated by Duluth Crushed Stone in 1926 and named in honor of the company’s owner, Frank A. Brewer, who also owned the Duncan & Brewer Sawmill and sat on the Duluth School Board. The land was originally part of the company’s quarry, located south of what is now park land.
As part of its St. Louis River Corridor Initiative, in 2015 the city announced a plan to dedicate as a park thirty acres of land, including the twenty remaining acres of the quarry as well as ten acres owned by adjacent Oneota Cemetery. The abandoned property—between Forty-sixth and Fifty-ninth Avenues West below Skyline Parkway and known informally as Casket Quarry—includes a one-hundred-foot-high rock face that has been popular with rock and ice climbers for decades. In April 2016 the Parks and Recreation Commission approved a plan for the space. The three-phase plan is expected to take ten years to implement at a cost of $638,500. As of January 2016, the new park has been informally called Quarry Park, but a final decision on its name has not been made.
West of the historic quarry, Oneota Park is a narrow slice of land—wedged between a loop of Skyline Parkway once called Oneota Loop Boulevard—that runs along both sides of Keene Creek from Highland Street to the convergence of the parkway and St. Louis River Road; its lower portion runs along the western border of Oneota Cemetery.
Tiny Ericson Place is simply a half acre of land sitting among many other acres of undeveloped property east of the remaining quarry property and above the historic railroad tracks that lead to Duluth’s ore docks. A 1937 park department report indicates that the property was donated, but the benefactor’s identity was not disclosed and there were many people of Swedish descent named Ericson (or Erickson, Erikson, Ericcson, etc.) living in Duluth at the time.
Colbyville, Lakeview, and Lester River Forest Park
Stretching from the Woodland neighborhood to Lester Park, the 1,417 acres of Colbyville, Lakeview, and Lester River Forest Park includes Downer Park, Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, Amity Park, and Janette Pollay Park.
Downer Park’s 17 acres are located north of the Forest Hill Cemetery in the eastern portion of Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood. The property was donated in 1918 by Boston real estate mogul and legislator Charles A. Downer, namesake of Vermont’s Downer State Forest. While Downer belonged to Duluth’s Kitchi Gammi Club, he never lived in the Zenith City. Amity Creek runs through the park, and what may be the original path of the Vermilion Trail, built in the 1860s during a short-lived gold rush, can still be seen along its banks.
As early as 1951, members of the Duluth Bird Club had gathered along the highest part of eastern Skyline Parkway at an area known today as Hawk Ridge, roughly midway between Seven Bridges Road and Glenwood Street, for a few days each September to watch the annual migration of hawks. By 1972 the club had become the Duluth Audubon Society and the bird watching activities stretched from August to November. That year, with financial support from the Minnesota Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the group gave the City of Duluth the funding to purchase 115 acres above Skyline Parkway west of Seven Bridges Road as a nature reserve. The following year St. Louis County conveyed 250 adjoining acres to the city to add to the preserve. Today the property is managed by the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, a nonprofit organization, and each fall thousands of birders from across the United States and forty other nations gather to watch the hawks migrate.
East of Hawk Ridge, Amity Park was created when Sam Snively and his friends built Seven Bridges Road (originally called Snively Boulevard) between 1901 and 1910. Snively acquired land along the road on either side of Amity Creek, also known as the west branch of the Lester River. When the road was donated to the city, the property, over 150 acres, came along with it. There is no mention of this park until 1928, when superintendent F. Rodney Paine referred to it as Snively Boulevard Park. Paine began calling the area Amity Park in 1930. The park includes the Lester-Amity Winter Sports Chalet, built in 1960 as a warming house for an adjacent hockey rink.