Cambridge City Park has a long history. In the past 120 years, it has changed from one of the city's busiest industrial areas into a scenic recreational landmark.
Since its creation in 1908, there have been incremental changes made within the park. Over time, it grew to 154 acres that hug both the east and west sides of the Rum River. As laid out in its parks plan, Cambridge intends to keep bettering the trails and recreational opportunities at Cambridge City Park so that residents have a place not only to recreate, but to enjoy together as a community.
Across the river, the 147 acres of Spirit River Nature Area are largely undeveloped. Trails meander through the floodplain forest and around old river oxbows before connecting to the prairie alongside the Anoka-Ramsey Community College - Cambridge Campus. The Spirit River Nature Area trails are used by cross country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter, bicyclists in the warm months, and hikers year-round. The Cambridge Cycling Club organizes regular rides, as well as several large events during the year in this east central Minnesota park.
In the 1880s, potatoes emerged as an important crop in the Cambridge area. By the 1890s a starch factory was built into the bluff of the Rum River, the foundations of which can still be found in City Park at the end of 5th Street.
While Cambridge City Park represents the biggest park in Cambridge's park system, there are numerous smaller parks that cater to their surrounding neighborhoods. These parks offer a range of recreational options, including trails (both paved and unpaved), playgrounds, ball fields and picnic tables. Among these neighborhood parks are Pioneer Park, Peterson Park, Brown Park, Honeysuckle Park, Water Tower Park, Central Green, Loren Erickson Memorial Park. Silver Oak Park, Wood Duck Preserve, Oak Circle Preserve and Woodhaven Acres remain undeveloped, giving residents a place to wander through undisturbed natural areas. The new skateboard park, ice rink and ballfield near the Isanti County Government Center along 18th Avenue Southwest are always busy.
By 1898, the starch factory was doing a booming business. In 1893, the Princeton Union reprinted a quote from the Isanti County Press that may sum up the area at the time: "The log house makes way for the near frame dwelling; horses replace the ox team; the hoe makes way for the cultivator and store clothes drive the homespun to the rag bag and we owe all these blessings to the potato."
In 1900, a brickyard was opened near the existing 2nd Street bridge to feed the building boom. The ample supply of clay in the vicinity fed the building boom of fireproof brick structures.
The beginning of City Park can be traced to a letter written to the editor. The author suggested that a park for the village be established on the river bluffs. Soon after the letter was written, it was noted in the newspaper that "woodmen were at work cleaning the underbrush out of Riverside Park, mowing and raking the grounds." On July 4, 1908, nearly 1,000 people attended the first Woodmen Picnic in the park. Other public affairs were also held in a pavilion, which had been erected. As the community grew, villagers seeking respite found it by swimming and boating in the Rum River, picnicking in the park and skating at the public rink along the river.
Somewhere around 1920, a dam was constructed on the Rum River as a power source, most likely for riverfront industry. The dam caused flooding upstream, and, by the 1930s, the structure was removed. All that is left today is the foundation of the dam, pictured to the right.
In 1939, the Minnesota Department of Highways and the W.P.A, with the cooperation of the Village of Cambridge, turned Riverside Park into a roadside park. The W.P.A structures can still be found in the park and include: entrance markings and stone overlook on 3rd Street, entry monument on 2nd Street, fire ring, and parking entrance wall.
In the fall of 2002, the Cambridge Rotary recognized City Park was a jewel in the rough. The Rotary formed a Parks Subcommittee and hired a planning consultant, Ingraham & Associates, to prepare a master redevelopment plan for City Park. The Rotary worked with city staff and the Cambridge City Council, along with many other community individuals and groups, to complete a detailed plan for the park. Residents were asked what amenities they wanted within the park. Ingraham & Associates took the answers they heard and fashioned a plan, which was then turned over to the city.
Since then the city has worked to replace aging equipment and create the type of park residents asked for, at both sides of City Park as well as at the city's other parks.