August 2019 -- Centennial Lakes Park boasts its fair share of fans, but few can claim as long or as strong an affiliation as Hometown Hero Pat Sandberg-Leih. Over the past 15 years, she has logged countless hours strolling up and down the Edina Promenade.
In that time, Sandberg-Leih has seen the 80-foot-wide greenway build upon its deserved reputation as one of the west metro’s best urban jewels. Favorite enhancements include the pond feature, picture-perfect babbling brook and public art installations all along the 0.75-mile pathway.
Sandberg-Leih went through a lifestyle change several years ago, downsizing to a condominium and selling her cabin oasis. Seeing a win-win opportunity in the making, she approached Centennial Lakes staff about possible volunteer opportunities.
“I love gardening and being outside,” she said. “Volunteering at Centennial seemed like a fulfilling way to ‘get my hands in the dirt’” – a passion she finds it harder to indulge without a large yard or weekend property in which to invest time and energy.
Fortunately for her, Centennial Lakes has a continual need for both. Maintaining any 24-acre plot is a challenge, and this goes double for parkland as heavily and meticulously landscaped as Centennial Lakes. Sandberg-Leih is among a small but dedicated corps of volunteers who keeps the Edina Promenade thoroughfare free of weeds.
“l asked to be responsible for a specific plot, to give me a sense of ownership and accomplishment,” she explained.” City Horticulturalist Rachel Finberg, the head gardener for Centennial Lakes, was happy to oblige her in that request.
During the growing months, park-goers can regularly find Sandberg-Leih on the south end of the Edina Promenade, where she devotes three hours four mornings a week. Obviously, that is just an average. “In the spring, it takes quite a few six-hour days to get things in shape.”
While she conducts her work alone, it is by no means a solitary enterprise. “I have found that there are so many people who enjoy the gardens as much as I do. Visitors will often stop to say thank you, comment, or even ask a question.”
In addition, “Rachel and her crew definitely make me feel part of a team…They are always ready to lend a helping hand and to fulfill requests for more mulch or the addition of plants to fill in bare spots.” At times, Sandberg-Leih is even invited to weigh in on where and how to add color to the garden beds.
While Sandberg-Leih’s expertise is valued and her time commitment is invaluable, she stresses that anyone can play a part in keeping The Promenade looking its best. “Taking on responsibility for a plot is purely optional. You can also join a group that volunteers every Thursday, and assist wherever weeding or planting is needed.”
As a fair warning, however, the experience can be somewhat addictive. “I have found that as I walk other areas of the park, I now can't help but bend down and pick up a few more weeds wherever I see them!”