Published March 19, 2012, 12:00 AM

Man behind Duluth city parks gets one of his own

About 2,000 acres of publicly owned Fond du Lac forestland got a new name last week, courtesy of the Duluth City Council.

By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune

About 2,000 acres of publicly owned Fond du Lac forestland got a new name last week, courtesy of the Duluth City Council.

Councilors unanimously agreed last Monday to create the Fredric Rodney Paine Forest Preserve.

Council President Dan Hartman authored the resolution to dub a piece of unnamed forest west of the Magney-Snively Trail system in honor of a man who did much to shape Duluth’s park system.

Paine, a native of Duluth with a master’s degree in forestry from Yale, served as Duluth park superintendent from January 1926 until April 1937.

“He was a driving force and a visionary who created many of Duluth’s park areas,” said Tom Kasper, Duluth’s supervisor of street and park maintenance.

“I hope this focuses some attention on Fredric Rodney Paine and what he’s done,” Kasper said, calling the recognition long overdue.

Paine was directly involved in the creation of Leif Erikson Park, Chester Bowl Park, Chambers Grove, Memorial Park, Hartley Field, the Indian Point Campground, Wheeler Field, the Duluth Heights Playground and the city nursery at Fond du Lac.

The sheer volume of work tackled during Paine’s tenure as park superintendent is unrivaled by anything the city had or probably ever will see again, Kasper said. He noted that Paine had an army of helpers at his side, thanks to hundreds of people employed by Great Depression-era federal programs — the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Kasper said he has been working on a book about the history of the city’s parks “at a tortoise’s pace” for several years. He noted that Paine’s family had a deep commitment to creating and maintaining outdoor public spaces.

His father, Fredric William Paine, was a banker with a penchant for land investments and philanthropy. The elder Paine was one the city’s first park commissioners and served many years on its board.

Fredric Rodney Paine shared his father’s passion for parks, but he wasn’t flashy, Kasper said.

“He quietly left his mark on the community,” Kasper said of Paine. “He was more of a behind-the-scenes guy — someone who simply did his work.”

Paine’s imprint can be seen not only in Duluth but at Jay Cooke State Park, where he was tapped to serve as the first superintendent. A plaque has been installed at Jay Cooke’s Oldenburg Point in his honor, but Hartman notes that it reads J. Rodney Paine, instead of F. Rodney Paine.

Although the city of Duluth owns the forestland that has now been named in Paine’s honor, much of the property lies beyond city limits. Consequently, Hartman said, it could not be designated a park.

But it could be set aside as a forest preserve, and Hartman said he felt the need to act swiftly after learning of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ interest in designating it as a scientific and natural area. He said that unless the city stepped up and attached a name to the property, the state probably would do the honors.

Hartman quickly settled on the idea of naming the forest after Paine, after discussing the matter with Kasper.

It turned out to be more complicated than Hartman had anticipated, however.

Hartman credited Tim Howard¸ supervisor of real property for the city of Duluth, for the painstaking chore of digging through land records and legal descriptions to piece together all the parcels of contiguous land the city had acquired over the years.

Now that the forest preserve has been defined and named, Hartman is optimistic it will be put to thoughtful use.

“I see it being used for horse trails, bike trails and more low-impact types of use in the future,” he said.