Fundraising kicks off for first playground south of Hwy 7 in Excelsior

In the west metro, Highway 7 divides the city of Excelsior. Any public parks for its fewer than 3,000 residents, including the elementary school playground, are north of the highway.

Over the years, the parking lot at Excelsior United Methodist Church became a makeshift play space for children south of the highway. Last year, pastor Brooke Heerwald Steiner and a couple of churchgoers formed a plan to develop that open space into an actual playground, and Sunday, the first public fundraising effort kicked off at Excelsior Brewing Company.

Sarah Nelson is the president of the non-profit So-Hi Community Park, which was founded with the mission of developing a park on the south side beginning with the playground. Nelson is also a parent who lives south of the highway.

“Once we really started looking at it, we’re like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s really not safe access to a playground on this side of Highway 7.’ Because all the kids over here in this neighborhood have to cross Mill Street or Powers here, and then go over Highway 7 to get to a park,” Nelson explained.

The idea was born where the playground is planned to be built: the church, where noise from the highway is audible inside.

“We’ve noticed that just the usage of our parking lot has gone up. I mean, particularly in COVID when there was nothing for people to do,” Heerwald Steiner said. “Which is all wonderful. But to us, it’s not the same as having a playground.”

Installing a playground at the church will cost roughly $300,000, Nelson said.

The city, in partnership with So-Hi Community Park, applied for and received a $50,000 matching grant from the Hennepin Youth Sports Program to get the project off of the ground, according to the nonprofit. The Morning Excelsior Rotary Club also pledged some financial support for the project.

Fundraising events, like the one Sunday at Excelsior Brewing Company will continue to happen until it’s fully funded, Nelson said.

She hopes to have the playground built in the fall.