Mom made my favorite, Juneberry pie, from berries I picked there. She made wonderful chokecherry jelly too, gathered in the same area.
A portion of one side of the steep coulee was grassy and made for perfect cardboard sliding in the summer. In the winter, when the snow wasn’t too deep, it was ideal for sleds and toboggans.
Today a statue of Leif Eriksson, the famed Icelandic explorer, overlooks that childhood playground – the Scandinavian Heritage Park at the corner of South Broadway and 11th Avenue SW.
I grew up not far from there, near where Jim Hill Middle School is today. All the kids in the neighborhood used to play in the coulee where the Scandinavian Park is now located. As I recall, it was kind of a one-sided coulee, meaning natural vegetation on the north slope, even extending all the way to the bottom in places.
The south slope was vastly different. It was there that concrete and asphalt chunks, dead trees and branches, loads of clay from some construction site, and who knows what else was dumped with regularity. On some days many trucks would come off 11th Avenue and dump their loads into the coulee.
Sometimes a few of us kids would be exploring the bottom of the coulee when we’d hear a truck back up to the edge, followed by that unmistakable sound of the truck bed being raised and a tailgate opening. We scrambled to get out of the way and watched the dust fly and “stuff” slide down the hill.
Now when I visit the beautiful Scandinavian Heritage Park, I can’t help but be astonished at the marvelous transformation. Of course, despite the remarkable improvement, I also can’t help thinking about what was once there too.
About where the colorful Dala horse proudly stands today was a narrow, dusty path leading into the coulee. It was made by people walking or on bicycles. There was a kind of shelf there too, about a third of the way down into the coulee. It was a good spot to leave bicycles before continuing on foot.
When I see the statues of famed skiers Casper Oimoen and Sondre Norheim that are fixtures in the park today, I think they are located precisely in the appropriate spot. Best I can recall, they are about midway down the neighborhood’s favorite old sliding and skiing slope.
Of course, the slope there today is much different than it was before all those dump trucks filled in the coulee.
The steepest wall of the old coulee was up against where First Western Bank is today. There was a water pond at the bottom near there too. I remember cattails and ducks and frogs. The manmade pond at the Scandinavian Heritage Park is situated above, but eerily close to where the old pond was at the coulee bottom.
Yes, what was once a city dump is now a city showpiece.
I don’t miss stepping in hornet’s nests, getting stuck in snowbanks, or being pierced by thorns from wild plum trees, all of which happened in that old coulee. I thoroughly enjoy the Scandinavian Park today. It is incredible, even more so if you know the history of the location.