Making a pitch for parks

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Jun. 27—Nicollet County isn't exactly rich in parks. There's two county parks to be precise — 7 Mile Park between St. Peter and North Mankato and the small Minnemishinona Falls park on the Judson Bottom Road.

Fort Ridgely State Park is just a stone's throw from Nicollet County's western border, but it's in Renville County.

While there might not be a lot of parks, 7 Mile makes up for it with it's expansive size and multi-uses. It's a whopping 628 acres.

The main park is dissected by 7 Mile Creek — one of only three designated trout streams in southcentral Minnesota.

On any weekend and most weeknights the park is filled with families grilling and playing lawn games. But the bulk of the park is lined with trails through and up steep ravines, offering scenic hikes and — if you choose to go to the top of a bluff — a real workout.

The park's unique in that horses area allowed and many riders take advantage of the trails.

While many people don't visit the other part of the park, across Highway 169, it has its own rustic charm. There's a boat launch onto the Minnesota River, trails and plenty of areas to get down to sandbars and maybe have a small campfire.

While Nicollet County parks may be few in number, St. Peter and North Mankato, where 75% of the county's population live, have plenty of them and they're well used.

On a recent evening, Wheeler Park was bustling. On the playground a couple of dozen kids and their moms were busy on the play sets.

Four volleyball games were going on, with athletic and mostly young players competing.

But it's the large horseshoe court at the park that's always an enjoyable place to sit in the shade of the cottonwood trees and watch players pitch horseshoes.

Horseshoes has declined in popularity, partly a generational thing, partly because people can toss lightweight bags while playing cornhole, which has similar rules. There aren't a lot of horseshoe courts around and Wheeler's gets plenty of use.

It's hard not to enjoy watching people pitching horseshoes. It's a relaxed but still competitive game. The clink of shoes hitting the steel post is a satisfying sound. Like any sport, it's fun watching the guys who are real pros, who've honed their game.

A form of horseshoes started 2000 years ago. Early shoes for horses were round steel rings and the Romans used them to pitch and try to hook over a steel rod.

It was a common sport for early American settlers, so much so that after Britain lost the Revolutionary War England's Duke of Wellington said that "the War was won by pitchers of horse hardware."

The Duke may have looked down his nose at our choice of pastimes, but soon the Brits refined the rules of horseshoes, rules still used today.

Stopping by to watch players pitch horseshoes at Wheeler, or trying it yourself, isn't a bad way to spend a summer evening.

While parks and greenspaces have always been an important part of quality of life, it seems that parks have steadily grown in popularity, even before the pandemic drove more people to look for outdoor escapes. Local cities and counties have done a good job of improving and adding parks.

It's a priority that should stay in place in the future.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.

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