Will Wilson, fishing off the bridge at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony Wednesday morning, seemed skeptical about the newly reopened regional park's arts programming. But the Brooklyn Park resident sounded like an artist when he described how the morning -- spent with his son, Marcus Callahan, 13 -- made him feel.
"The quiet, the wind blowing, looking at the lake," he said. "It's nice just to enjoy the weather."
Inspiration is easy in the 120-acre park, with grassy oak savannahs, ripples on Silver Lake and the ever-present melodies of robins, goldfinches and bluebirds.
With Wednesday's opening, Three Rivers Park District officials hope to mine the arts for natural themes and help visitors channel inspiration from nature into personal creative expressions.
"Everybody connects to nature in a different way," said Julie Alcorn-Webb, Silverwood Park supervisor. "When you put nature and the arts together you get the best of both worlds. And when they come together it really touches people and makes them care in ways they may not have before. The more people we can make care about the natural world the better."
Silverwood is the easternmost of the district's 20 parks, and the most urban, Alcorn-Webb said. The hope is that it will expand the district's reach, drawing from the east metro, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
At $14 million, it is the district's largest-ever single development project, said Denis Hahn, director of outdoor education. It is the first new site to open since 2003.
The property, off County Road E and Silver Lake Road, was a Salvation Army camp until its sale to the park district in 2001 for $7.8 million. The Salvation Army rented the facility for two years as it looked for a more remote site. A district task force brainstormed ideas for the park.
The arts won out over several other options, and the park's design reflects its mission.
• A natural amphitheater will host music and other performing arts.
• A mile-long trail touches on each of the park's five ecosystems and is punctuated by six art circle installations where visitors can view, create or contribute to artwork.
• An indoor art gallery and classrooms for all ages and abilities will use staff, as well as local arts partnerships. Art supplies will be available for rent.
• A hall, where windows and wood invite nature in, is available.
Wilson said the park was a favorite fishing spot before it closed for construction in May 2008; upon hearing of the reopening, he took the day off to take Marcus fishing.
John and Lynae Wingate, of St. Anthony, visited the park with their two daughters, two friends and John's mother, Betty, of Hannibal, Mo.
They were among the first visitors to create art; the four girls posed for a snapshot on a stone wall, before a vista of oaks and sun-dappled lake.
"Art brings people together, and reflects the community," John Wingate said. "Art and nature, they both feed the spirit."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409