Now peaking at the height of summer, Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park is buzzing with family-oriented activities like swimming, picnicking, fishing, children’s camps, and special programs.
Located deep in south-central Scott County near New Prague, the park has a variety of habitats and outdoor features that families enjoy: mixed woodlands, wetlands, hiking trails, picnic and play areas, and 4,100 feet of prime lakeshore on beautiful Cedar Lake.
Another highlight: The site offers a spectacular setting for outdoor weddings and receptions.
Operated under a joint powers agreement between Scott County and Three Rivers Park District, Cedar Lake Farm also provides a variety of educational and recreational activities and programming.
Scott Fuhrman, Parks and Natural Resources Coordinator for Three Rivers Park District, says “this park has a lot of character.”
“Despite being a relatively new park, the park still retains elements of its past,” he said. “There are dozens of huge, mature, old-growth oaks scattered throughout the picnic areas as well as open space preserved from the land’s time as pasture.
“It’s quite a picturesque atmosphere.”
Working farm evolved into public treasure
Fuhrman said the historical barn is also a prominent feature in the park and ties in the history of farming on the site and the importance of farming to the area. “These elements come together and provide a unique backdrop for all the recreation activities here,” he said.
Fuhrman also is a park user. “I really enjoy kayaking on the lake. I even tried out one of the paddle boards at our annual Midsummer Festival. It was a blast!”
Long before it became a park, the site supported several generations of farm families. It then was operated for several decades as a popular private day resort and retreat center for groups and companies.
With help from the Metropolitan Council, Scott County acquired the property for a regional park in 2006 and opened it to the public in 2009.
After recent renovation, park is more accessible
In partnership with Three Rivers Park District, the park was closed for a year and reopened in 2016 after significant improvements to enhance and expand the park’s amenities.
Included in the overhaul were the addition of paved trails in the park’s core, an upgraded swimming beach, renovated pavilion and bathrooms, and a new maintenance facility. As before the renovation, the swimming beach, fishing pier, and boat rentals are all family favorites.
Patty Freeman, General Manager of Scott County Regional Parks, said the 2016 improvements were important in another way. “A very significant benefit of last year’s redevelopment was making the park and its amenities more accessible,” she said.
“We now have an accessible route and trail loop through the park. Accessible parking stalls were added and the accessible path connects to most of the parks amenities including the beach, fishing pier, boat rental building and bathrooms. We also upgraded restrooms features.
“These changes may not be so obvious to the general population, but they certainly were needed and make a more welcoming experience for our community members with limited mobility and other disabilities,” she said.
One of the most visible improvements was painting, repairing, and weather-sealing the site’s historical 1913 barn so it can remain accessible for public uses for years to come.
The park also features a massive stone memorial fireplace near the beach, built in 1942, to honor soldiers from New Prague who died in World War II.
Future plans call for a large food-themed learning center
Just eight years old, the park is still evolving. In spring 2018, 2.5 miles of natural surface trail will be opened in the western portion of the park.
Further ahead, the development master plan calls for a group camp on the eastern edge of the park. Community feedback has indicated a desire for camper cabins as part of the group camp. Plans also call for renovating the barn interior to serve as a large indoor group rental space for weddings and other gatherings.
More elaborately, the master plan calls for a new “Market Learning Center” in the eastern part of the park.
“This area of the park [will focus on] the theme ‘Food, From the Soil to the Table’ and will feature amenities to support hands-on food growing and food making experiences, food source and production education and awareness, and local and sustainable options for food growing,” according to the master plan.
Adjacent features will include agricultural demonstration fields gardens, restored prairie and wetlands and a paved trail loop.