Common Ground

It’s hard to fully describe the joy brought by a sunny day after a fresh snowfall. This past Sunday, it seemed as if everyone was outside enjoying the new snow and the magical experience of winter in our city. Parks were alive with skiers, skaters, hikers and more. A sense of promise filled the air. 

As we look ahead to the coming year and all the promise that it holds, it’s important to take stock in the year behind and celebrate all that we’ve achieved together. While 2020 will be remembered as a year of systemic challenges and disparities revealed, it was also a year in which the Minneapolis Parks Foundation met a significant long-term goal. We were thrilled to share the news last week that donors helped us meet our commitment to raise $18.1 million for RiverFirst

The RiverFirst Capital Campaign was more than five years in the making and on behalf of the Board and staff of the Parks Foundation, I want to express our gratitude to all of you – especially the donors – who helped us meet this transformative milestone.Thank you!! As a result of your generosity, we are on track to open two new public parks on the Mississippi River later this Spring: Water Works and the Great Northern Greenway Overlook.

We look forward to the day when we can safely come together in celebration of this effort; the impact of this work will be felt for generations beyond ours. While the RiverFirst Campaign goal is momentous on its own, we have much more to celebrate from 2020. Below are some of the other highlights of the year.

RiverFirst Signature Projects

Water Works

  • Since construction at Water Works began in summer 2019, the project has continued unabated despite COVID-19. The park is nearing completion and the perimeter fencing may be removed soon while construction on some park amenities and the pavilion continue towards the anticipated spring 2021 grand opening.
  • In December, the Minneapolis Park Board approved a lease agreement for Owamni by The Sioux Chef, clearing the way for its anticipated spring 2021 opening. The four-season dine-in and take-out eatery will be first restaurant from James Beard Award-winner Sean Sherman and his partner Dana Thompson, and when it opens, it will also be the only locally Indigenous restaurant in a major U.S. city.
  • The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the City of Minneapolis are working with Indigenous elders and community members to draft a public art RFQ which is anticipated to be released yet this year.

Great Northern Greenway River Link

  • Construction on the Overlook, phase one of the River Link project, began in June 2020, and the project is expected to open in spring 2021. The Overlook design – including an original youth-designed interpretive railing – is deeply informed by what we heard from community through several years of direct engagement in collaboration with Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), including design charrettes, community bike rides and river paddles.
  • D.A. Bullock, a North Minneapolis-based filmmaker and activist, completed his video trilogy about our partnership with JXTA. Begun in 2016, it chronicles the evolution of engagement and design through the voices of youth apprentices and studio instructors who led the process.
  • The Minnesota legislature granted the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board $3 million in bond funding toward planning and implementation of future phases of the River Link. The initial focus is on conceived riverside trail connection from the Overlook to Ole Olson Park just downriver.

[Related Content: JXTA Youth Engagement Film Trilogy]

Parks Investments & Community Initiatives

People for Parks Fund

In July, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation consolidated with People for Parks. As the only two non-profits supporting the entire Minneapolis Park System, our unification means we can work together, instead of independently, ensuring that more of our donors’ support goes directly to the parks we all love. Through the consolidation, People for Parks’ remaining assets seeded the newly formed People for Parks Fund, which is the home for the most popular and impactful services People for Parks provided to our community, including targeted grant-making, fundraising events like the Posters for Parks Show, and bench and paver sales.

Reimagining the Civic Commons

Reimagining the Civic Commons (RCC) is a collaborative effort of national foundations and local partners working to transform public spaces in ways that advance engagement, equity, environmental sustainability, and economic development. As the convener of RCC in Minneapolis, we’ll use community-centered processes and strategies to help ensure the emerging vision for riverfront parks – including the Great Northern Greenway Overlook and the future park at Upper Harbor Terminal – is equitable and shaped by adjacent communities. The projects may be focused on the river, but the social, cultural, and economic impacts must transcend those boundaries and reach deep into Northside neighborhoods.

[Related Content: Meet RCC Summer Public Policy Interns David-Earl Russell and Elijah Henderson]

Little Free Libraries

Amidst the pandemic and physical distancing, Little Free Libraries at Minneapolis parks and recreation centers continued to serve our communities, including in some instances being converted temporarily to take-one-leave-one centers for everyday goods. In 2020, the Parks Foundation gathered more than 3,500 additional books to restock lending libraries through the system.


Sunrise on the Mississippi

On September 10, RiverFirst was the featured narrative for our first all-virtual Sunrise on the Mississippi fundraising event, where we debuted five powerful video stories about Water Works, the River Link’s Overlook phase, and the impact of the RiverFirst Campaign. More than 150 people experienced this event live and helped us reach our fundraising goal. Thank you!

Walk & Talk Event Series

Our popular Walk and Talks summer series of curated tours of significant sights and delightful details in Minneapolis Parks returned for a third season, this time with new self-guided tours. Curious park-goers accessed our download-and-go RiverFirst and Winchell Trail self-guides nearly 450 times, and tapped into our new RiverFirst storymap another 300 times.

Next Generation of Parks Event Series

More than 500 people signed up for our two Next Generation of Parks events in 2020. In February, Dr. Marla Spivak showcased the role of parks and urban greenspace in preserving habitat for pollinators, while our first virtual Next Gen featured Minnesota author (and Minneapolis Park Board planner) Adam Arvidson on his book of extraordinary Midwestern plants and animals, Wild & Rare.

Posters for Parks Show

Minneapolis arts and parks came together for the 5th Annual Posters for Parks Show – a week-long online celebration and sharing of parks-inspired design. After all the posters were counted, it was the most successful poster show yet: A grand total of 811 posters found their way into the hands and onto the walls of fine folks from northern Minnesota to Atlanta, GA, and from Portland, OR, to Brooklyn, NY, along the way generating more than $33,000 to support the People for Parks Fund and local artists.

Collaboration & Partnerships

As ever, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation is grateful for the collaboration and partnership with many individuals and organizations who help us keep community at the center of work. Thank you!

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

City of Minneapolis • Environmental Justice Coordinating Council • Friends of the Mississippi River • Friends of the Falls • Great Northern Greenway • Green Minneapolis • Hennepin County • Juxtaposition Arts• Loppet Foundation • Mill City Commons • Minnesota Public Radio • Mississippi Park Connection•  Mississippi Watershed Management Organization • Pillsbury United Communities • Slow Roll Twin Cities • The Sioux Chef • The Design Center of the University of Minnesota • Walker Art Center • Wilderness Inquiry

YOUR DONATION helps ensure the parks in our city remain accessible, equitable and serving everyone.