Silverwood Park, which opens next summer in St. Anthony, is a lakeside oasis that boasts several unique features:

• The woodland dale on Silver Lake is the only regional park in the Twin Cities area to focus on using nature to inspire performing, folk and fine arts, said officials at the Metropolitan Council and Three Rivers Park District, which owns it. It's also home to deer, fox, raccoons and a loon.

• Silverwood is the Three Rivers' only park in a first-ring suburb and the only one served by a Metro Transit bus line, Park District spokesman Dennis Hahn said. The former Salvation Army camp is also the most accessible to the population core of the district, which primarily serves suburban Hennepin County.

• Although the 69-acre facility is the smallest park run by Three Rivers, it is the most expensive development in the district's 51 years. It cost $7.8 million to buy and another $14 million to develop. The latter figure includes shaping a 3,000-seat outdoor amphitheater and building an $8 million northwoods-style visitors center with lakeside picture windows. Workers also have rebuilt a 158-foot, curved wooden bridge to a picnic shelter on an island where Great Horned owlets have been seen, Hahn said.

A bald eagle soared over Silver Lake last week as carpenters drove nails into empty window frames around the 500-seat great room in the visitors center. The center also includes an octagonal room with a huge fireplace and imposing ceiling beams made of laminated pine. The octagon will feature a gallery of rotating artwork, Hahn said.

Silverwood will offer visitors "an oasis for the spirit, a place where they can rejuvenate in a beautiful wooded and lakeside setting," said Rosemary Franzese, a Park District board member who lives in St. Anthony. She was instrumental in gaining Metro Council support and helping the district bid on and buy the old camp in 2001, said Hahn, district outdoor education manager.

Franzese attended Metro Council meetings and was always pushing Silverwood, said Ann Beckman, the council's park manager. Beckman said the council liked the park because of its location near Minneapolis and its art focus.

"We don't have another art and environment park," Beckman said. "We were interested in the lake and location [near Minneapolis] so a lot of school kids can go there."

The Met Council, which partners in 49 regional parks in the seven-county area, has so far paid $4.15 million to help Three Rivers buy and develop the park, said Arne Stefferud, council park planning analyst.

A 2005 Met Council survey of the Twin Cities region found the three most attractive features residents cited were parks and trails, natural environment, and arts and culture. Silverwood, with its arts focus, bike and walking trails lake and white oak forest, covers all three favorite features. Some of the oaks are two centuries old.

It took several years of planning and discussions for Three Rivers to settle on an arts focus for the urban getaway, nestled between Columbia Heights and New Brighton. Demolition and clearing of most of the old Salvation Army dormitories and other buildings started in the fall of 2006. Grading and construction began last May and is expected to be done by next summer.

From the visitors center's windows, a viewer can look south over Silver Lake and east at a grassy, boulder-studded hill sloping down to an outdoor amphitheater. The outdoor stage can face the oak-shaded hillside, which seats about 250. But if actors or musicians do an about-face, they can perform before a gently rising, grass-seeded incline that can hold up to 3,000 people.

Behind the visitors center is a 150-spot parking lot, complete with a water permeable brick surface and rain gardens to filter runoff into holding ponds. Hidden under the lot are 50 geothermal wells that carry fluids 150 feet down into the 54-degree earth and back through underground pipes to help cool and heat the visitors center.

Up the hill from the parking lot are two buildings that will house art classes. Behind the buildings looms a 20-acre oak forest that shelters deer, turkeys, red fox and trails, Hahn said. He said a loon was hooting this summer on Silver Lake, which also has muskrats and mink. Visitors will be able to bring canoes and kayaks, and two fishing piers are planned.

Franzese said she is proud to have played a part in transforming the old camp into a park that will "offer a wealth of opportunities to experience the beautiful natural environment through recreation and artistic endeavors."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658