New park in Orono rich with history

By Adam Quandt
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Lurton Park in Orono will hold a grand opening for the new Susan E. Lurton off-leash dog park on June 17 from 1-3 p.m. (Submitted photo)

Communities are rich with history. From historical buildings and landmarks to parks and rural areas, communities are packed with stories behind them.

The parks around Orono are no exception to this.

“All of the parks in Orono were made with the intent of preserving the history at each location,” Orono Park Commission Chair Rick Meyers said.

Orono is currently gearing up for the grand opening of its newest park, the Susan E. Lurton Nature and Off-Leash Dog Park, which will take place on June 17.

In order to protect the park and offset the additional costs incurred with maintaining an off leash park, access to the park is controlled via an annual pass system. The cost for Orono residents will be $25 and $40 for non-residents. However, the park will be free during the grand opening.

The new park is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Classen and features everything from forests to wetlands, as well as an open restored prairie area. The restored natural prairie will have mowed paths to picnic tables. The park will also feature a wooded hiking trail, which is being improved with wood chips and benches for viewing and enjoying the area.

With being an off-leash dog park, dog owners will be able to bring their furry friends to the new park and allow them to run and play within the fenced in safe environment located on the property.

Orono Park Commission member Bryce Johnson dug into the very rich history of the land that will play host to the new park.

Johnson used his research on the park to create a document tracing the origins of the land, the history of the landowners and the history of the land use. The document will eventually be available to view at the historical society.

Johnson has focused on asking one very important question in regards to all of the parks in Orono and that is “why is this a park?”

“Each one became a little more interesting as I went back to see what was there before it was a park,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s interest in the history of Lurton Park began when he was told that there had been a historic barn on the property that had been considered for preservation as late as 2008. After hearing this, Johnson knew that there had to “be some interesting history there as well.”

In his research, Johnson discovered that the park was originally part of the Henry Stubbs homestead. According to Johnson’s research, Stubbs was one of the area’s early pioneers, when he came to Minnesota from Ohio in October of 1856 and made a 160-acre claim west of Lake Classen.

Stubbs’ daughter, Elizabeth Stubbs and her husband Charles Gordon acquired 80 acres of the land west of Lake Classen; 40 acres from Henry Stubbs and 40 acres from Samuel and Mary Thompson.

Throughout the property’s history, the land was owned by many different landowners and used for a variety of purposes.

The land served as logging and farm land for some time and was later converted to an apple orchard, which was home to around 800 trees at its largest. Under the ownership of Frank Butterfield the apple production reached 3000 bushels in the peak years of the early 1900s.

During the Butterfields ownership of the land, the area also became the largest apiary in the state at the time of the early 1900s. According the Johnson’s research, the Butterfield apiary reached 240 colonies during the sugar shortage of World War I.

The land was eventually purchased by William and Susan Lurton in 1979 and donated to the City of Orono by the Lurtons in 2000.

“The land that has become the Susan E. Lurton Park has certainly seen many changes over the years,” Johnson said in his historical write-up. “From Native Americans camping in the Big Woods, to settlers and farmers tending their orchards, berry patches or apiaries, to the trails and open spaces that now welcome dogs and their owners, the land continues to provide opportunity for those who use it.”

Orono will celebrate the park’s grand opening on June 17, from 1-3 p.m. with a variety of special events and vendors commemorating the park’s rich history.

More information about Susan E. Lurton Park and all of Orono’s parks can be found online at www.ci.orono.mn.us.