Celebrating 25 years of Chester Woods Park in Olmsted County

Chester Woods 25th anniversary - free day at the park on May 26, 2020
On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, Chester Woods will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an Olmsted County park. After receiving $5 million in federal funding, construction on the park and dam began in 1991 and Chester Woods Park opened on May 26, 1995. Over the years, the land that was originally purchased to assist with Rochester’s flood control project has evolved into a regional destination enjoyed by more than 150,000 visitors each year. 

To mark this milestone anniversary, Chester Woods Park Manager Tom Eckdahl says they will offer free entry into the park on May 26. Additionally, the Friends of Chester Woods (FOCW) is honoring the 25th anniversary by offering a family activity designed to give everyone a self-guided experience of Chester Woods. It involves exploring 25 highlights including the park’s new areas and natural inhabitants. FOCW is a non-profit organization with volunteer members dedicated to supporting the educational, environmental, and recreational goals of Olmsted County’s Chester Woods Park. 

“We still want the community to come out and celebrate this important milestone by enjoying our park safely,” noted Eckdahl. “We encourage folks to visit Chester Woods and enjoy our trails by safely staying six feet away from others. We have 15 miles of primitive trails that run through prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. Eight-and-a-half miles of those trails can be used for equestrians and we have three miles of trails that can be shared with dogs on a leash.”

“We have a lot of open space here at Chester Woods – 1,330 acres,” said Olmsted County Park Superintendent Karlin Ziegler. “This park has a lot of things to offer. Within the park is the 118-acre Bear Creek Reservoir, also known as Chester Lake, which is enjoyed by fishers, canoers, kayakers, and swimmers. In addition to our trails, we have native prairies, woodlands, and a diverse habitat for wildlife.” 

“We are different than our sister parks,” explained Eckdahl. “A large part of Chester Woods was left in its natural state, so it’s really designed for those that appreciate a nice secluded retreat. Chester Woods is quiet and offers peace and solitude. If you’re looking for a place to take a simple paddle around the lake or have a nice family campout, Chester Woods is the place for you.” 

A fun addition to the Chester Woods Park in 2020 is a new dog park, where people can exercise their dogs off-leash and practice retrieving and water training. 

While many activities are still happening at Chester Woods this year, Ziegler says not all activities will be open due to COVID-19. 

“We are following guidance from the state level. Further, we want to ensure we have appropriate safety protocols in place before we reopen certain activities,” Ziegler explained. “The beach and beach house will be closed for the whole summer. Campgrounds will open on June 1. We hope to offer watercraft rentals to some degree and will keep our website updated as we have more information.” 

Reflecting on 25 years, Eckdahl is thankful to those who appreciate Chester Woods as a valuable resource to our region – including the FOCW. 

“We are so thankful to the FOCW because we would not survive without them,” said Eckdahl. “Among a variety of other tasks, they help us develop and monitor our trails, complete prairie restoration work, assist with our bluebird nesting boxes, and also put in hours helping with general maintenance and donating supplies that we need.” 

If you would like to mark the 25-year celebration of Chester Woods, there are a few things you can do:

Chester Woods Park is located just eight miles east of Rochester at 8378 Highway 14 East, Eyota, MN, 55934. A daily park pass is $5; an annual park pass is $25; and seniors get a discounted annual park pass for $20. Disabled veterans can get a free annual pass by calling the Veterans’ Services office at 507-328-6355.