This last Sunday we took time off from our busy spring schedule, and explored part of our extended backyard. We headed down to Lillydale Regional Park, also known as the brickyards. It is a great park that I have not explored enough. The brickyards has a long history and has been a part of the St. Paul landscape and culture for over a century. In the late 1800’s city dwellers started to dig extensive cave systems in the soft sand stone. At different points throughout their lives, the caves have been used for growing mushrooms, lagering beer, storage, garbage dumping, and as mines for the material to making bricks. This last use is where this park got it’s unofficial name. There are bricks everywhere.
Nowadays most of the caves are closed off, but when I was a kid I can remember going down there on school field trips and walking far back in the caves. Those are great memories. Along with the caves, Lillydale Park has a unique micro climate, especially since it is only five minutes from downtown St. Paul. The part of the park where the brickyard trail runs has at least three running springs, but probably more. There is a very unique wetlands about two hundred feet up the bluffs, and there are also a few fossil beds that contain trilobites, shells and other ancient sea plants and animals.
Another very cool aspect of this park is seeing how nature is reclaiming old industrial ruins. The best example is this picture. We came across a giant, old brick kiln. What is left of it stands close to ten feet tall, and is 15-20 feet across. At the top left of the kiln is where this tree is growing. I’m sure at some point the brick arch will finally give way and the whole thing, tree and all will come tumbling down. But until then, it is quite a sight. There are also traces of old roads, and lots of partial walls. The brickyards shut down in the 1970’s, so it has only taken nature 40 years to basically make the area wild again. I have read articles about Chernobyl and how nature and wildlife now abound in the area that was once the site of the world’s most deadly nuclear accident. Similar things are happening in Detroit and other urban areas that are becoming depopulated. Nature is resilient, and given a chance will take care of all the concrete asphalt, crack by crack, and turn it into rubble, and then eventually a new landscape. Beautiful!
As far as an urban wilderness expierence, The Brickyards rank high up on my list. I hope to visit the springs, and caves, and fossil beds many more times as my kids grow up. Anyone near the Twin Cities who has not been down to Lillydale Regional Park should give it a try. Pack a lunch and a couple cold beers, gear up the kids, and get a leash for the dog, and go get lost for a couple of hours! Cheers!