First-ever Parks Giving Day asks St. Paul to support its public parks on their 175th birthday

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Boosters are asking St. Paul residents to donate money for something they say is taken for granted: public parks.

A group of St. Paul park-related nonprofits and friends groups held the first-ever Parks Giving Day on Thursday to raise at least $10,000 in donations and encourage volunteering. The event, complete with birthday cake and live music, also celebrated the175th anniversary of the city's parks, with the first two — Rice and Irvine — plotted in 1849.

City leaders and local parks volunteers told a crowd of about 75 gathered in Rice Park downtown that the caliber of St. Paul's parks would suffer without the work of donors and volunteers who help provide everything from free community events to gardening, concerts, free and reduced access to sports for kids and park revitalization.

"We have decided as a community a long time ago that we were going to be stewards of our natural resources," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said. "That we're going to be intentional about creating an urban environment where trees and green space and water are the norm, and that we're going to invest in our families and in our children."

Carter said that the city, which plans to spend nearly $80 million on parks and recreation in 2024, couldn't offer the same level of service without partners. For example, he praised the elimination of fees for some youth sports and city's new free swimming program.

"All of these rivers, the 10,000 lakes and the destination swimming pools that we have in this city are worth nothing if our families can't enjoy them safely and know how to swim," he said.

The Parks Giving campaign is a partnership between the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy, Como Friends, Great River Passage, Friends of Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County and friends of parks groups. The campaign started May 1. As part of the festivities, the groups also planned a fundraiser for downtown St. Paul's Pedro Park at the Camp Bar on Thursday evening. The city is expanding and improving the park, with work expected to be complete in 2025.

Susan Larson, who lives near Mears Park and chairs its friends group, said supporting parks is critical because green spaces connect people.

"Your parks are a direct reflection on the city and the city's values. And if it's not kept up, then people tend to think the neighborhood's going downhill," she said. The friends group helps coordinate 50 volunteers who purchase plants, maintain the park's gardens, and help plan and fund its holiday lights.

Volunteering in parks is also a great way to meet your neighbors, said Margie Abrams, of Friends of Wacouta Commons Park.

"Every time I'm out there, somebody comes by, introduces themselves or just comments on how important the garden is to them," she said.

Donations help fund improvements, programs and free admission at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, said Jackie Sticha, the president of Como Friends. Sticha said the nonprofit has donated $50 million to the zoo and conservatory in the last 24 years.

"Government entities certainly have a huge number of competing interests," she said. "Private support can do the things that public dollars, government dollars may not be able to do."

Michael-jon Pease, the executive director of the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy, concluded a short program with an invitation to get involved.

"If you have a dream for your park, a project you want to undertake, please reach out and we can help connect you to various partners and resources to make that happen as we all work with the city to maintain and improve this amazing system," he said.

The organizations are accepting donations at, where you can also sign up to learn about volunteering.