Nature Center Site History

In the early part of this century, the area comprising the Maplewood Nature Center was part of the farm owned by Michael and Anna Bartelmy. The brother and sister were subsistence farmers and operated a greenhouse to help make ends meet. The woods supplied them with fuel, and the marsh watered their livestock and the neighboring Cahanes family’s cattle. Their simple farmhouse stood on the corner of Stillwater Avenue and the present Bartelmy Lane.


Because Anna Bartelmy could no longer make tax payments in the 1930s, she lost much of her land. A developer named Sterling bought the land and subdivided it for homes. He left the marsh and woods undeveloped. Sterling gave this land to his son-in-law to use for growing nursery stock. The west marsh was dry enough to plow and plant for many years during the drought years.

Tax Forfeiture

Most of the 40 acres of marsh and upland became City of Maplewood property when the land went tax-forfeit in 1967. The city developed the southwest corner as a picnic site, and plans were considered to fill the marsh and establish playing fields. A hydrological study recommended that the ponds remain to be water storage basins for flood control. This halted the plans to fill the marsh.

Nature Center Founded

City staff initiated a search for alternate uses for the land that would be in harmony with the study’s recommendations. At a neighborhood meeting in 1974, local citizens made it clear they wished to leave the area natural. Eric Blank, the Director of Community Services, formed a master plan and obtained grants to develop a nature center.

In 1977, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) provided funds to hire Naturalist Megan Gange and a crew to develop hiking trails and build benches. A grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund financed construction of the Interpretive Building, parking lot, and fencing. In 1978, naturalists Jim McKee and Chris Soutter were hired under a CETA grant.


  • 1976: Naturalist and Landscape Architect Megan Gange begins the nature center site clean-up.
  • 1978: Naturalists Jim McKee and Christine Soutter join Megan, and environmental education programming for school and community groups begins. The Volunteer Trail Guide Program is developed. The Interpretive Building opens in December; it houses a classroom, wildlife exhibits, a few live animals, and a few amenities.
  • 1978: Jim first recognizes the importance of a nearby rare prairie remnant. Today, we manage this offsite 3-acre virgin tall grass prairie. Jim passes away in 1980, and the prairie became known as "James McKee Prairie" in his memory.
  • 1979: Boy Scouts, 4-H and many volunteers work on bridges and planting projects. The floating boardwalk is completed by the Twin Cities Tree Trust.
  • 1980: A prairie reconstruction is planted in the SE corner of the nature center.
  • 1982: Naturalists January Grew Hayman and Judy Horsnell replace Jim and Megan. Schools from Independent School District (ISD) 622 visit the nature center for an extended curriculum from Kindergarten through 6th Grade.
  • 1987: Naturalist Ann Hutchinson is hired. Jean Nelson provides office assistance.
  • 1988: East Parks and Oakdale Lions Club donate and build an observation deck. Parents and students of Weaver Elementary School establish the Butterfly Garden in memory of Darlene Blummer, a third grade teacher. Junior Volunteers plant this garden. There is now a brick in her name in the children’s play area.
  • 1993: Maplewood voters approve a $5 million referendum to acquire and preserve open space throughout the city. The city now has 13 sites totaling over 270 acres. These sites are designated Maplewood Neighborhood Preserves. The Basler property next door to the Interpretive Building is also purchased.
  • 1994: An addition is put on the Interpretive Building, with offices and a second classroom (the Sunroom). Groups of up to 20 people rent this room for seminars and other private meetings.
  • 1996: Kiosk, patio, and water garden are constructed. Rain garden program with Maplewood Engineering Department begins.
  • 1998: Half-time position of Open Space coordinator is created. Virginia Gaynor is based at the Nature Center and coordinates planning, restoration, management, and volunteer activities.
  • 2000: New boardwalk is installed, thanks to a $50,000 outdoor recreation grant by MN Department of Natural Resources and $50,000 from the City’s capital improvement budget.
  • 2002: Old cedar shakes on roof are replaced with new "eco-shakes" made of recycled material from ground-up wood pallets and recycled vinyl. First annual city-wide Buckthorn removal program is coordinated by Maplewood Nature Center.
  • 2004: Open Space Monitor Volunteer Program is established.
  • 2004/5: Exhibits in the amphitheater are renovated, thanks to a Grant from the Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District.
  • 2005: Bluebird Monitor Volunteer Program is established.
  • 2006: Friends of Maplewood Nature is established (a non-profit group). Frog Monitor Volunteer Program is established.
  • 2008: New Sustainable Yard Landscape is implemented with rainwater features (including rain garden and rain barrels).
  • 2009: Funded by a Federal Sustainable Trails grant, trails are renovated to reduce erosion and maintenance issues. Big Tree Registry program is established.
  • 2009: Climbing Rock and Nature Play Area is installed, thanks to a Charitable Gambling Grant and Friends of Maplewood Nature. Work is done by as a Girl Scout Service Project.
  • 2010: Solar Panels and educational display are installed, thanks to a Department of Natural Resources Solar Legacy Grant.