Eagan family’s huge snow fort a big draw for neighborhood kids (and their parents)

Harkening back to an era when it was the norm for children to be sent outside to play with other kids in their neighborhood, an Eagan family has created a backyard snow fort that serves as a magnet and central hub for outdoor fun during the cold winter months.

After school and on weekends, at least a dozen of the 30-50 kids who live in this Eagan neighborhood ditch their electronics and pull on their snow pants to crawl through a 10-room snow fort created by Brian Anderson for his children, Joey, 9, and Lydia, 4, who host the entire neighborhood in their backyard.

“I’m just a dad with a lot of time on his hands having fun,” he said. “I’m a child at heart getting to express my creativity and playfulness through this. The kids have so much fun together in the summer and then winter comes and they don’t see each other as much.”

His wife, Rachel Anderson, agreed, “It’s a fun way to bring kids together in the winter.”

The snow fort building began two years ago during the pandemic when neighborhood kids were sent outside to play since playing inside together was not an option. Because of the massive amounts of snowfall this winter, this year’s fort is the largest yet. What started out as a series of small forts placed together soon became one massive fort as the snow kept falling.

Anderson created tunnels to connect the forts and now all of the individual ones have morphed into one massive fort with 10 rooms, three hallways, two slides and four separate entrances.

Anderson began this year’s fort after the first snowfall in November and kept adding on as more snow fell. He has probably put in about 50 hours to build and maintain the fort. Beginning in November, he estimates he has spent about 30 minutes each day for 90 days working on it.

“It’s like starting with a one-room house and then you keep building and adding on,” he said.

The children have come up with the rooms inside the fort, which includes a bank with ice money (ice chips) and credit cards (icicles) which are then used to purchase items at the various shops within the fort.

“The creativity is all them,” Brian Anderson said. “I’m just the main brute force.”

During a neighborhood party at the snow fort last Saturday, the stores were stocked by parents with orange soda and snacks that the children could purchase with their snow and ice funds.

“They’ve built their own businesses inside,” Rachel Anderson said. “They all have different jobs. It’s a lot of creativity and it’s fun to see.”

The children use garden tools to create windows, shelves and cubbies inside. For instance, the bank area has “vaults” for the money and a “teller” window for kids to use.

The fort includes a bank, a kitchen, a home decor store and a “Scents and Sage” shop that sells pine tree branches and acorns.

Neighbor Brynn Bishop, 9, has a home decor store where she sells colored ice cubes as decorations, said her mother, Kim Bishop, who along with Brynn, has two other girls, 12 and 7, who go to the fort.

“I think it’s a really special experience,” Bishop said. “It brings them outside and they are learning teamwork, building friendships, and even a little bit of entrepreneurship.”

The fort does require maintenance, especially after rain and snow days.

Every day after school, Anderson rounds up whatever kids are around and everyone spends about 45 minutes playing and working on the snow fort, he said. He made the fort in direct sight of his kitchen window so he can also keep an eye on the kids when he goes inside to start dinner.

The neighborhood, Rachel Anderson said, is a great mix of young and old. And not only the younger generation enjoys the backyard fun at the Andersons.

Rachel Anderson was told by some of the older residents that they love hearing the children playing and giggling outside.

“When we first moved here, the neighbors said, ‘Look at that big kid in the snow.’ And it was Brian,” Rachel Anderson said laughing and then turned to her husband, “You bring fun to the neighborhood.”

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