ELMWOOD PARK - A QUIET CITY PARK NESTLED ALONG THE BIG SIOUX RIVER
What if we can turn Elmwood Park into something special for Families, and Children, much like its own history. For many older residents of Sioux Falls, this park is entrenched in our memories, for many of us, being active in the Boys and Girls Club meant campouts, fun activities, and nature while exploring this former river basin.
Elmwood Park, West Sioux Falls - the story of Elmwood Park in West Sioux Falls is more than a community park, for it is a glimpse of what once, and how the Sioux River once wandered throughout the area itself. The first view of the area itself, as you step foot outside your vehicle from the parking lot is of a natural wooded area that once was part of the river. It represents not only our past, but from a historical perspective, an amazing insight of how the Sioux River once long ago carved its path throughout the prairie itself.
As the photo above shows, shortly after the State of South Dakota became a State in 1889, this area was platted and reserved to become a quiet, residential community. First discovered by Edith Meredith, this area of Sioux Falls quickly developed into what would become West Sioux or "West Sioux Falls" - as I have mentioned in the past, the intersection of W. Madison, Burnside Street, and Lincoln Avenue quickly became its center point of the former town site, which at the time situated on the outside of the main part of Sioux Falls itself which had not yet expanded past the Downtown area.
West Sioux Falls quickly made a name for itself, as it reserved this location along the river banks to become a community park, what became Elmwood Park today, has become one of the oldest city parks in the area. The former little community would go on to have a Grocery store, a Hardware store, a barber shop, a small gas station, a few community pubs, not to mention, quickly became a destined site for the future Air Force base that would arrive by the 1930's, which would come to triple its residency, and help to populate the western edge of the City of Sioux Falls. Yes, that would be correct, thanks to West Sioux - it led the movement to expand Sioux Falls further west.
And at the heart of all of it, was this quiet, community park, today known as Elmwood Park - I have a few lasting memories of this park from my early childhood, as I was born in the early 1970's - growing up, I recall many days and nights of many activities, while participating in the Boys Club of Sioux Falls. We would enjoy camping, sitting around campfires, telling ghost stories, and exploring nature itself. The park was quite an attraction, and at its center, was a small "wooden fort" built to be the spot where we perform all those fun, family, nature activities, from learning how to chop wood, to making arts and crafts, to learning nature itself.
When you take a look at the second photo, you get a glimpse of where the size of this little fort was, it pretty much filled this entire area. It would have a main entrance from the font, and two cornerback gates allowing you to step out into the wooded areas behind it. From each of those smaller gates, kids could storm out and enjoy nature walks, playing cat and mouse, to yes, we often played hide and seek amongst the trees, to tell old infamous ghost stories, while playing within those trees. It was a sad day when this little old fort was torn down, but looking back, my lasting memory of this fort holds a special place in my memory, for it was one of the first places I quickly learned to make friends, enjoy participating in events such as camp outs, chasing girls, learning to tie twist knots, basically anything you can possibly learn from nature itself.
As you wander out through out the park, you quickly become appreciative of what and how the Sioux River once wandered along the South Dakota Prairie - as the next few photos will show, our city's namesake river would have entered the city just north of the city along modern day 60th Street, where it would twist and turn through what today has become the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, then to Elmwood Golf Course, and finally twist through what today is Elmwood Park.
As you quickly discover, whether you enter from the north, or from the southside, you find yourself walking through the former river bed, as you explore this area, keep in mind just how the Sioux River once traveled through the airport area, the golf course, and finally arriving in what today is a city park. This massive area was once nothing more than prairie lands, full of grass, flowers, trees, and natural springs that helped to feed the river itself, in fact today you will discover that Covell Lake is nothing but a natural spring that pops up along C Avenue in the industrial park area, connects to the Sioux River by Sandy Creek that runs across Western Avenue, along 9th Street, finally conjoining to the river as it twisted and turned, making its way from the north, as it loops, and forms the "Great Bend" still evident along 57th Street.
At the heart of all of this, was the area that today is Elmwood Park, West Sioux's very own community park, a lasting image yet today of what the river once looked like as it made its way to Sioux Falls.
Imagine, your grandparents time, a time they grew up before the Great War, a time where this area still had a river running through it, the river would have been flowing through, as it was not until the 1950's the Army Corps of Engineers changed its path. As you can see, the Sioux River was nothing but a prairie river, a small stream that once popped out from within the Coteau des Prairies, which sits atop the upper plateau, that makes up much of Eastern South Dakota, from there, it drains via underground springs, forming lakes, streams, and rivers above, from a spot near Sisseton, South Dakota, the Sioux River is formed. At first, the river begins as a small creek bed, as it streams southward, passing among many lakes, all of which spring up among the prairie itself, all appear to feed each other, and before long, the Sioux River begins to pick up strength as it reaches Flandreau, then Brookings, then passing around Lake Madison on its way to Dell Rapids, then Renner, then Sioux Falls.
Elmwood Park has become just one of the many city parks nestled along the former route of the Sioux River, joining the likes of Sherman Park, the Minnehaha Country and Western Ho Golf Clubs, to Sertoma Park today, of all the parks today, Elmwood Park is the least known among the massive residency today, but yet, holds so much history to tell. For it was the one park today that is known to begin an entire bedside community, one of which had its own little Town Grocery, Hardware Store, a Gas Station, a Church, Barber Shop, and lively-active residency who claimed it as their home.
As we shape the future of Sioux Falls for tomorrow, we must preserve as much of our history, we must turn these small little nature areas to become star attractions, in light of events that have made Sioux Falls one of the economic capitals of the upper midwest. What can Elmwood Park become tomorrow, only the sky's the limit of this beautiful city park.
Would not this area become a nice quiet little city campground, for tenters, campers, could it house a community garden, become known to be a place to sit back and relax, enjoy life, and enjoy family type activities? If we could turn this city park into something such as I mention, it would be a lasting tribute to what this area meant to so many ancestors of yesterday.
What is your lasting memory of Elmwood Park, not only that, but what do you remember most of what the West Sioux Community meant to life as a resident of Sioux Falls?
I have shared so many interesting stories of West Sioux over the years, as an advocate to help find ways to redevelop this entire area, I have found a way to tell its story, by just traveling the area exploring the many particular points of interest that once made West Sioux so much fun, from Elmwood Park, the Sioux Falls Arena, the former Air Force Base, the former Hardware Store, the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds, to Covell Lake, and the former U.S Hwy 16 and S.D 38 Highway System that once passed thru the community in order to build a connection between Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota.
As I close, here is one lasting reminder, of what Elmwood Park meant to so many of, who grew up in this area -
The Fort @ Elmwood Park (prior to 1990):
IF only we could turn back the clock, go back in time, and enjoy some of the early activities that once took place at Elmwood Park. Why do I care so much about the West Sioux Community, because of places such as this, what it once meant to an entire community that once envisioned itself as a town within a town, a place where people could raise a family, start a new life, and prosper together. A place where we could all share in outdoor activities as a family. What if 'we' could bring back some of those memories by redeloping this park to become what it once was, what it meant to so many of us as we quickly grew up within the City itself.
Who Resides & Works Within the West Sioux Community?
I want to hear from you and discuss the possibility of forming the West Sioux Community Business Business District, while adjoining it to the Entertainment District, along with adopting a "Resolution" by the Sioux Falls City Council to focus on a long term plan for redeveloping, preserving historical places, buildings of the area, let alone making W. Madison Street - from I-29 to West Avenue a newfound "Commercial Hub" of the area, much like we have done with Downtown Sioux Falls, thus attracting people to the area.
Our Plan, and Vision for the Area, and our hope for future public discussion includes the topics such as:
- Preserving the Historical Aspect of the Community itself.
- Preserving or Finding a New Purpose for the Sioux Falls Arena;
- Revitalizing, Redeveloping, Preserving the West Sioux Community Neighborhood;
- Preserving, Redeveloping, and Saving the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds;
- Redeveloping the Commercial District along W. Madison Street from I-29 to Western Avenue - thus Re-energizing a newfound Investment in Commercial Trade in the area;
- Working the City of Sioux Falls and the Event Center Complex Advisory Board to create a plan forward to create and plan for a West Sioux Community Entertainment District;
- Preserve to the Community our Public Places, Parks, Nature or Green Space;
- The Concept of Revitalizing the Former "West Sioux Hardware Store" to become a Neighborhood Grocery in the absence of the former Hy-Vee Store on W. 10th Street;
- The Establishment of the "West Sioux Neighborhood Historic District"