Horton Park is focal point for community

By Tracy Kugler

As I drove up Hamline Avenue in 2013 to check the area around our new home, I noticed a sign at the corner with Minnehaha Avenue: “Horton Park — Mini Arboretum.” I thought, “Nice perk!”

Now I know it’s much more than that.

The arboretum reflects partnerships among the city of St. Paul, community groups and private companies that have responded to the changing needs of our urban ecosystem to maintain this educational and inspirational space. We need more partnerships like these to adapt to our own changing times.

Established in 1907, Horton Park occupies an oversized city block near an assisted living facility, the Friends School of Minnesota and Hamline University.

Evolving tree life in the mini arboretum

In 1978, St. Paul had lost many of its street trees to Dutch Elm disease.

The St. Paul Companies (now Travelers Insurance) decided to honor its 125th anniversary by working with the city Parks Department to create a mini arboretum to educate residents about the various trees that would replace the elms. Horton Park’s walkability and proximity to concentrations of students and seniors made it an attractive site for the arboretum.

The city’s landscape architect, Bill Pesek, selected 33 tree species, drawing on the city’s Tree Master Plans. He worked with the St. Paul Companies and Jostens (of high school ring fame) to create brass plaques to identify individual trees and a map to stand at the center of the park.

Made of living trees, the arboretum is dynamic. Of the 174 trees planted, only 58 remain today. Some plaques still accurately identify trees; others stand alone or next to different trees.

Many of the older trees in the park, which is in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway district, were ashes and most of them were marked for removal in 2012 due to the threat of the emerald ash borer.

Urban forester Karl Mueller remembers: “Students at the Friends School were upset when they saw the red paint ringing tree trunks and reached out to the Parks Department. So, we organized an Arbor Day planting with the school.”

Together they planted 60 new trees of 24 varieties, many native to Minnesota, and have added more at annual Arbor Day events.

Ecological education and community connections

Disease and pests are not the only challenges to Horton Park. The low concrete wall around the central plaza had long been a target for tagging, to the dismay of Friends School teachers.

In 2014, visiting scholar David Sobel suggested that a mural on the wall could help. Teacher Melissa Andersen and local muralist Gustavo Lira helped students design and paint a colorful mural. No more graffiti!

The Friends School also worked with the Parks Department and the U of M to refresh the tree identification signs. Walkers learn the trees not only in the park but throughout the city. When people ask Mueller what kind of trees would suit their yards, he frequently refers them to Horton. Learning about the trees from these signs helped inspire my own writing project that gradually taught me the stories of the park.

Horton Park educates about more than trees. In 1999, a group of volunteers partnered with several community organizations to install an oak savanna wildflower garden anchored by the oak trees at the northeast corner.

Later, the group created a native wildflower shade garden in the center of the park and added informational signs.

Hannah Texler said, “My vision is that the primary plantings in the neighborhood will shift from turf lawns to native wildflowers as people learn of their beauty, ecological benefits and ease of maintenance.”

Look around! Her vision is becoming reality. Why not go for a stroll once a week? See what has changed and learn about a new tree or two on each visit. Who knows where it will take you? 

Tracy Kugler is a resident of Hamline-Midway and loves trees, birds, words and maps. She works as a research scientist in the IPUMS Data Center at the University of Minnesota.


Want to know more about Horton Park’s trees or Tracy Kugler’s writing project? Visit momentsinthepark.com

Learn more about Horton Park at hamlinemidway.org/horton-park

Interested in planting native wildflowers in your yard? Check out the Lawns to Legumes program at bwsr.state.mn.us/l2l

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