Dan Dailey used to place trash cans around a large undeveloped parcel of land near Cedar Lake, with this simple message attached: “Nurture nature.”
What Dailey was doing was planting the seeds for a vision to create a natural oasis in the heart of the city.
“He was imagining what the future boundaries would be for a park — even before there was any kind of a movement,” said Keith Prussing, longtime president of the Cedar Lake Park Association and a friend of Dailey’s.
On Sunday, Cedar Lake Park will host a tribute to Dailey, one of the park’s founders. He died of a heart attack on Nov. 21 at his home in Texas. He was 68.
“Dan was truly a visionary person. And he was very in love with nature,” Prussing said. “He was also always thinking about how can people live best in community.”
His efforts to establish Cedar Lake Park contributed to the creation in 1995 of the pioneering Cedar Lake Trail, one of the first trail systems in the country to allow bicycle and skate commuting from the suburbs to the center of a large metro area.
“The Cedar Lake Trail was the genesis of the amazing trail network we have now,” Prussing said.
He added that the park and connecting trails system is a continuation of a vision championed earlier by Theodore Wirth and Horace Cleveland, who imagined a connection from the Chain of Lakes to the Mississippi River.
Beginning in the late 1800s, the land north and northeast of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis had served as a railroad yard. Then, in the mid-1980s, the railroads pulled up their tracks and put up a for-sale sign. A group of citizens, including Dailey, got to thinking that the 47-acre parcel of land would make a great park. Together, they formed Save Cedar Lake Park and campaigned to preserve that land as green space. Dailey was instrumental in creating awareness and finding funding for the project, Prussing said.
“The asking price was $1.8 million. We were able to raise upward of $600,000. We were able to get the rest of it in a bonding bill. Then the land was immediately donated to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as the largest acquisition to the system since the early 1900s,” he said.
Dailey grew up in South Bend, Ind., as the oldest of three children. “We had two acres growing up. We were always in the yard as children,” said his sister, Christine Schultz of Downers Grove, Ill.
He graduated from the University of Ohio, where he met his future wife, Holly Ramsey. The couple moved to Minneapolis and started the Five Owls, a quarterly review of children’s literature aimed primarily at educators.
They amassed so many books that Dailey began searching for a way to distribute them to needy children. He would drive around in his convertible in December, accompanied by a friend who was dressed as Santa Claus, and they would use the convertible “sleigh” to pass out books.
Dailey’s community service projects were many and varied, and reflective of his empathetic nature, his sister said. His latest passion was helping juveniles serving time in adult prisons for crimes they committed as youths. He moved to a ranch in West Texas, publishing a daily blog called Wandervogel Diary to highlight juvenile justice issues.
“He was way ahead of his time. He was an inventor, an artist and very gifted,” Schultz said.
The tribute at Cedar Lake Park will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday. Guests are asked to meet at the north end of Upton Avenue S.
In addition to his sister, Dailey is survived by a son, Henry Dailey of Palm Coast, Fla.; a brother, David Dailey of Menlo Park, Calif., and three nieces.