Interpretive/Nature Trails

Vesterheim to celebrate new Heritage Park design with dedication ceremony

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A renovation of Heritage Park, as seen in this July 9 photo, has recently been completed. Heritage Park — home to a dozen unique, historical buildings — was recently renovated. The museum plans to celebrate its reopening with dedication ceremony on Saturday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

After a year of renovations, Vesterheim Heritage Park in Decorah is celebrating its reopening with a dedication ceremony.

A brief ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Mill Street Portal on the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School campus, at 520 W. Water St. in Decorah.

Following the ceremony, there will be refreshments and entertainment by the Decorah Nordic Dancers and Eden Ehm on the Hardanger fiddle.

Many of the historic buildings will be open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. for touring and guides will be available to answer questions.

Home to the most extensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts in the world, according to the Des Moines Register, Vesterheim traces its history back to Luther College in 1877, when then-president Laur Larsen thought to begin collecting everyday objects of Norwegian immigrants.

Continuing with this dream, Larsen’s successor, C.K. Preus, created an open-air display beginning with the Egge-Koren log house. That display was eventually moved from Luther to Vesterheim’s downtown campus and continued to grow to 12 historic buildings.

Now, Vesterheim has re-imagined this open-air display into Heritage Park so the museum’s unique historical buildings are showcased within an accessible, landscaped park that incorporates the Nordic appreciation for nature and outdoor living,

The design utilizes a Norwegian forest-and-glade concept with extensive tree plantings surrounding a scattering of open areas for public gatherings, the interpretation of historic buildings, educational functions, and folk-art classes. There is even a small amphitheater for performances, according to the Vesterheim website.

Visitors enjoy programming at the new Heritage Park ampitheatre at Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School. Heritage Park — home to a dozen unique, historical buildings — was recently renovated. The museum plans to celebrate its reopening with dedication ceremony on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Vesterheim)

All of Heritage Park’s pathways are in compliance with ADA accessibility standards.

The park was designed by Damon Farber, the award-winning landscape architectural firm from Minneapolis, Minn., in partnership with Snøhetta, the renowned international architecture and landscape architecture firm with offices in New York City and Oslo, Norway.

The Heritage Park renovations are part of the Vesterheim’s master planning process, which demonstrates a shift toward sustainability, according to the website.

The plans for Heritage Park implemented such practices to include permeable pavement, soil quality restoration, a bioretention cell, and native prairie plantings to transform a currently underutilized landscape with features that improve infiltration, reduce nutrient and sediment runoff, and demonstrate sustainable stormwater management, according to the Driftless Journal, a Decorah Newspapers publication.

Large, open glades will provide space for leisure and gathering as well as for outdoor dining, arts education, performances and exhibitions.

The Heritage Park plan also recognizes a relationship to the Upper Iowa River, which once ran next to the property, and the museum’s continuing responsibility toward it, while the landscaping incorporates elements that work to mitigate impacts to the environment, the museum website said.

The primary contractor for the project was Second Nature Landscaping, of Bloomington, Minn. Other contractors involved in the project include Skyline Construction, Inc., Wicks Construction, Perry Novak Electric, and Stevenson Tree Care, all of Decorah.

The Heritage Park project was made possible by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, the Driftless Journal reported.

Vesterheim also has received funding from Winneshiek County Community Foundation for four interpretive signs. These signs will be similar in structure to the history signs already placed throughout Decorah on the Water Street Trail and the Historic District Trail, the Journal reported.

A not-for-profit museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School contains is home to than 33,000 artifacts.

The museum includes a Main Building, Heritage Park — which houses 12 historic buildings that came from across the Midwest and Norway — a library and archives. The Main Building features four floors filled with artifacts that tell the story of the immigrants who came from Norway to start a life in America, according to the Des Moines Register. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also rotates special exhibits.

The museum also offers more than 100 classes where you can learn about Norwegian traditions, and specifically folk art. Other classes include rosemaling, painting, woodworking, fiber arts, metalworking, language and culture, food traditions, jewelry making, music.

Classes were only offered online this past year due to COVID, but the Vesterheim said it expects reopen classes on-site on Sept. 1, 2021.

To learn more, visit: vesterheim.org/folk-art-school.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com.

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