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Lowry Nature Center celebrates 50 years of making the outdoors accessible to all

The Lowry Nature Center in Victoria is celebrating a half-century of widening nature’s door to Twin Cities residents.

When the center opened in 1969, it was the first public nature center in the area. It gave the somewhat rare opportunity of experiencing an outdoor classroom to those who traveled from across the region and state.

Parents who went to the center when they were children are now bringing their own little ones to the center. Teachers who were once students visiting the center now organize field trips for their own students.

Lara Bockenstedt / Photo by Lara Bockenstedt  

Sunlight filters through trees along the Acorn Trail at the Lowry Nature Center.

The Lowry Nature Center estimates some 1.5 million people have connected with the center since it opened, said Outdoor Education Supervisor Allison Neaton.

“For every story we hear, there are so many more that we don’t hear,” Neaton said. “It means a lot to us when we hear that it made a difference — that the experience made someone have an appreciation for the world around them in a different way and encouraged them to share that with somebody else.”

The road to Lowry cuts through the Carver Park Reserve. After following Highway 7 to Victoria Drive, a turn onto Nature Center Drive curls around lush prairie, trees and glimmering water to arrive at the Lowry Nature Center.

Architect Richard Vosejpka designed the Lowry Nature Center’s brown building. Lowry favored the outdoor classroom for learning, though, which he said was the land surrounding the facility sitting at the base of Acorn Trail, and above Crosby Lake.

Lara Bockenstedt / Photo by Lara Bockenstedt  

Painter Judith Anderson from St. Louis Park drives out occasionally to illustrate scenes from the Carver Park Reserve.

Children from summer camps build outdoor forts in the center’s backyard. Adults meander the trails on bikes, and bees mind the flowering prairie plants that fringe the parking lot. It likely isn’t too different from what the park looked like 50 years ago.

THE NATURE

CENTER FORMS

The Lowry Nature Center was created from the imagination of its namesake, Goodrich Lowry.

In 1967, Lowry invested his retirement time in several interests: conservation, birding and travel among them. He visited the Aullwood Nature Center and Farm near Dayton, Ohio, that year.

The stay inspired another way to spend his retirement.

Lowry came back from Ohio and enacted a plan for an outdoor education facility in the Carver Park Reserve that could offer schoolchildren the chance to unfurl their love for the outdoors, and learn more about conservation along the way.

“He was really focused on trying to make sure that what he was doing was creating a place where students could come and learn and build a connection with the land,” Neaton said.

In 1967, Lowry said, “These children will be our voters of tomorrow, setting the conservation policies of this state and nation.”

Image courtesy of Three Rivers Park District  

The Lowry Nature Center is celebrating 50 years of educational programming.

A nonprofit called the Metropolitan Nature Centers was formed to create the Carver Park Nature Center. It spent two years raising $500,000 to build the center and fund two years worth of operating costs.

The Lowry Nature Center opened in the spring of 1969. Goodrich Lowry called its formal event on June 28 and 29 a “housewarming.”

The nature center’s operations were handed to Hennepin County Park Reserve District in 1971. The district was later renamed Three Rivers Park District, and the Carver Park Nature Center was also renamed to be the Lowry Nature Center.

Lara Bockenstedt / Photo by Lara Bockenstedt  

Rain gardens border the path up to the nature center’s entrance.

MODERN WORLD

Nowadays, the center faces a new issue. A survey from the American Public Media Research Lab shows one in six American adults never spend free time in nature. Survey participants cited work, or having to work a lot, as the most common reason they couldn’t step outdoors.

“Whether it’s because of technology or because of the busy-ness of our lives, or just because of so many more choices for our free time,” Neaton said, “people are spending less and less time outside.”

She added reconnecting with the outdoors is more accessible than people may think it is.

“Nature is not something separate (from us),” Neaton added. “There is not nature over here in a corner while you’re in a separate corner.”

Whether it’s helping visitors navigate trail maps, educating children in an unconventional classroom, or being open and free 363 days a year, the nature center is determined to keep getting people outside.


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Former mayor 'Doc' Ziegler helped create the Chaska of today

Former Chaska mayor Edgar “Doc” Ziegler guided Chaska through some of its most tumultuous years.

Ziegler served as mayor from 1968-74. During his leadership, much of the original Jonathan neighborhood was developed.

Known to many as “Doc,” Ziegler was a community leader, longtime dentist and faithful parishioner at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Ziegler, 89, passed away at his home in Seward, Nebraska on Sept. 4. He moved out of his longtime home of Chaska with his wife Ruth to be closer to their family about a year ago, said his son Robert Ziegler.

“He was a well-respected, well-grounded, faith-filled man,” said Rev. Greg Snow, pastor of St. John’s. “He was faithful in worship attendance, he was a man always in Bible study, engrossed in the word and trying to better understand what the word was trying to say to him through the Gospel of Christ.”

Ziegler originally hailed from the small town of Perham in northwest Minnesota. He later attended the University of Minnesota Dentistry School and was captain of the U.S. Army Dental Corp. from 1954 to 1956.

He had asked his dental school contacts for leads on job opportunities. They pointed him to Chaska, Robert Ziegler recalled. His father had a private practice from 1956-94.

CAMPAIGN

Robert Ziegler remembers helping his father campaign for mayor.

“My dad went to every ward and went to every house to drop off a postcard-sized flier that said something like ‘I want you to vote for me for mayor.’ In the evenings, until it got dark, he was going door-to-door,” Robert Ziegler said.

His father was a very principled man, he added.

“As a 10-year-old boy, I thought you could cut across the lawns going door-to-door ... He said you never walk on someone else’s property without their permission. It tells you about his attention to detail,” he said. “His passion was for the people and he walked the entire city. That was a message that he sent that he valued each citizen of the community.”

As an outsider, Ziegler’s approach to local politics was different, said former mayor Tracy Swanson.

“Even though he knew many people through his dental practice, most people did not know him so he did something that had never been done in local politics,” Swanson said, in an email. “He knocked on every door of every house in the city to introduce himself. Many people were shocked at his victory but he worked hard and impressed many with his determination.”

In March 1968, Ziegler beat Carl Griep 681-621 in the race for mayor. The election was the first held for the city’s new five-member council, a change from the nine alderman system.

JONATHAN

After Ziegler became mayor, he was instrumental working with Jonathan officials building the “New Town” of Jonathan.

Sen. Henry McKnight had a vision to create a New Town in the late 1960s. Original plans called for adding 50,000 people to the southwest metro, with much of that growth within Chaska.

At the time, Jonathan boasted revolutionary urban planning, modern architecture — even an early version of the internet. It attracted attention from around the world, but at home, some residents did not want the development to take place.

While Jonathan never fulfilled its vision, the neighborhood still has many original elements, and is now the largest housing association in the state, with 8,000 residents and 2,300 homes.

“I think Doc provided leadership at one of the most challenging times in Chaska’s history, when there was a proposal to grow to implement Jonathan in the city of Chaska and achieve their goal of being a 50,000 community in Chaska,” said former mayor Bob Roepke. “Imagine trying to do that today, creating a town within a town. It was a tremendous undertaking.”

Ziegler was the right man for the job, Roepke added.

“He was a strong-willed person. He had strong convictions. He was probably the right guy at the right time in terms of positioning Chaska to address that in a responsible way.”

INDUSTRIAL BASE

Under Ziegler’s leadership, infrastructure such as power lines were put in place, attracting industries.

Chaska took full advantage of that 20 years later when it decided to grow its industrial base, according to Roepke. The infrastructure was more than what many surrounding communities had in place.

“In 1985-95 we added more jobs than St. Paul and because of the utilities that Jonathan put in the ground — we were able to attract businesses to Chaska,” Roepke said.

That built up Chaska’s industrial taxbase which, through tax increment financing, was later used to build flood control, the community center and other amenities, he added.

“People could live and work in our community,” Roepke said.

TEACHER

Ziegler retired from his practice in 1994. Throughout his time as a dentist, Ziegler would teach students once a week as an instructor and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

Soon after his retirement, Ziegler went on to become a full-time faculty member and taught until 2010, when he was 80 years old.

“I’ll miss those opportunities, about challenges I might be having, and gaining his wisdom and input. He had a unique smile,” Robert Ziegler said. “No matter whether things were going good or badly, he saw everything as an opportunity and not a problem.”

Ziegler is survived by wife Ruth (Dobberfuhl), son Michael (Susan) Ziegler, Robert (Connie) Ziegler, six grandchildren, three great grandchildren and his sister Thea (Jary) Larson, according to his obituary.