In 1959, the City of Minnetonka received plans for its first park, Gro Tonka. Today, the city maintains five community parks and 44 neighborhood parks - and Gro Tonka is still with us.
Big Willow ParkAmenities:
- Play Equipment
- Walking and Biking Trails
- Walking Trails
Located between Minnetonka Boulevard and Cedar Lake Road, just west of the Minnetonka Public Works facility, Big Willow Park’s 95 acres make it the smallest of the city’s five community parks. Big Willow’s enticing features include views of Minnehaha Creek, expansive open spaces and extensive trails along with community athletic fields and a play area. More than two miles of formal trails and other paths meander through the park, with the northern section of the park a natural area with trail connections to Mayflower, Hilloway and Meadow parks.
Big Willow’s Trails
Big Willow’s 2.3 miles of trails are mostly surfaced with crushed limestone in the natural areas and paved with asphalt on the hilly areas and around the athletic facilities in order to prevent erosion. During the winter season, trails are plowed after a snowfall of two inches or more.
- The north-south connecting trail: Just off the parking lot, west of the athletic fields, visitors can access the trail that crosses to the north side of Minnehaha Creek, then follows the creek until it passes under the railroad tracks into the north section of the park, ending at Cedar Lake Road (0.8 mile).
- The west spur trail: After crossing Minnehaha Creek, the west spur trail heads west and ends at Plymouth Road (0.4 mile) or turns south to Bridge Street (0.5 mile). Along Bridge Street there is access to the Minnetonka Mills area, the Burwell House, and the Regional LRT Trail.
- The southern east-west trail: The trail segments along the south side of the park connect Big Willow Park with the Mills area to the west (0.5 mile) and access to the Regional LRT Trail. To the east the trail connects to trails along County Road 73 (Hopkins Crossroad) to the north (0.6 mile) and Oak Ridge Road to the south (1.4 miles).
If You Go
- Park is open 5:00 AM - 10:00 PM
- The park is accessible by car from Minnetonka Boulevard. The parking lot holds 10 vehicles, with one handicapped space. Additional parking is available near the public works facility.
- Seasonal restrooms and drinking fountain are located on the west side of the public works facility.
- Dogs must be on a leash (no longer than 6 feet) on the trails, in the formal areas of the park, and in the parking lot. Dogs may be under voice command and in view of owners at all times in the undeveloped areas of the park. Please pick up after your pet. Mutt Mitt dispensers are available along the trail.
In the 1880s, Big Willow was the site of St. Albans Mill, a flour mill located in the north section of the park on Minnehaha Creek and was served by a railroad spur. Later, Adam Hannah was the owner of the property where Big Willow Park and the Minnetonka Public Works facility are now located. He built a home on the site in 1913 for his wife and three children. After his death in 1929, his daughter Mary R. E. Hannah lived in the house until she died in 1967. The city had already purchased some of the property in the 1950s, and acquired the rest after Hannah’s death.
Big Willow Park’s grand opening was celebrated July 23, 1977, and was the result of a joint project between the Minnetonka Jaycees and the city of Minnetonka, funded by a federal grant. The park had already been recognized in 1976 by Jaycees International, when it was named the best environmental project in the United States. A standout feature of the park while it was being developed—and which is still there—was a large willow tree on the west side of the marsh, thus the name “Big Willow.”
- Look for the group of willow trees for which the park is named, about 500 feet north of the small parking lot on Minnetonka Boulevard.
- In the northeast section of the park, look for the original cut for the railroad spur that served St. Albans Mill. A bridge abutment still stands next to the creek.
- A 2.8-mile loop starts at the small parking lot and heads north through Big Willow Park to Cedar Lake Road, east along Cedar Lake Road to County Road 73 (Hopkins Crossroad), south to Minnetonka Boulevard, and west again along Minnetonka Boulevard back to the small parking lot.
- The city’s natural resource division is restoring the wooded section north of the railroad tracks by removing buckthorn and protecting native species.