Anoka County history: From a small park to 37,180 acres

When I was a kid, we had one park in Anoka called Riverside Park on the east banks of the Rum River.

It had a footbridge that crossed the river to the old amphitheater and the rock castle that has been in the news recently.

Today, the city of Anoka has 400 acres in parks, trails, and gardens.

All the cities in Anoka County have a combined 6,189 acres of land dedicated for park lands.

The Anoka County park system has about 11,000 acres of land owned by the parks department.

When you add state-owned lands, like the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, you get a total of 37,180 acres dedicated to park land.

That makes Anoka County the largest in the metro area.

John VonDeLinde became our Anoka County parks director in 1994.

Under his leadership, the county park system has grown by 2,000 acres to a total of 11,000.

The regional trail system has grown from 15 miles to nearly 50 miles with many more in the design stage.

The number of visitors grew from 1.9 million to 3.5 million. He anticipates reaching four million in 2012.

He has secured more than $40 million in grants for parks and trails since 1994.

Today, he has 39 full-time employees and 250 seasonal employees working at the golf course, trails and parks.

VonDeLinde is a recipient of the Fellow Award from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials.

“I can think of no one more deserving of this honor,” said Jim Kordiak, chairperson of the Anoka County Parks and Recreation Committee.

The industrial revolution, coupled with a large wave of immigration in the 1850s, made life dirty, chaotic and unpleasant.

To counter this, a movement of parks sought to create aesthetically pleasing environments which, in turn, made our cities more healthy and livable.

The chronology of national parks includes these key events: Central Park in New York City, 1857; Yosemite Park, 1864; Yellowstone Park, 1872; the organization os the Forest Service, 1905; the creation of the National Parks Service, 1916; and the New Deal, 1933.

Here in Minnesota it started with Itasca State Park in 1891, Interstate Park in 1895, and the Department of Conservation in 1931.

Anoka County created its park system in 1963. That same year, Anoka County acquired 18 acres in Columbia Heights for its first park.

The park was later named for Albert A. Kordiak, the former county commissioner that is recognized as the founder of the county’s park system.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society board of directors.

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