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Finding Minnesota: Quarry Park & Nature Preserve

WAITE PARK, Minn. (WCCO) -- In the summer months, we all look for a place to cool down from the summer heat.

Pools, lakes and rivers are the typical spots for swimmers, but there's one watering hole in Waite Park that takes swimming to new heights. Wooded trails and rolling meadows greet visitors at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve.

"It's kind of like going to the Boundary Waters but only having to go five miles instead of driving to Grand Marais or Ely," Peter Theismann, Stearns County Parks Director, said.

Most aren't there for the stunning scenery. They show up for a different kind of breathtaking view.

"It's not every day you jump from rocks ten feet up," Nora Priede Von Herber said as she swam at Quarry Park.

When steep cliffs meet deep water, it offers an invitation few can refuse.  Quarry Park has become a popular spot for cliff jumping in the summer months.

"I really liked it because I like how clean it is, and it has nature in it which is really fun," Lulu Priede of Minneapolis said.

In those final seconds before airborne freedom, swimmers are concentrating on height rather than the quarry's history.

"It was industrial. There was, until 1950, there was a whole variety of granite companies that mined and took rock out of here," Theismann said.

When the industry moved on, it left behind a barren land of water-filled quarries and towering granite piles.

"They didn't care if they ran over the tulips or lady slippers or dumped a bunch of junk," Theismann said.

Over the years, nature came back and so did unwanted visitors.

"From 1950 to 1992 it was party hardy out here," Theismann said.

"We used to all come here when we weren't supposed to," Pete Kinney of Waite Park said.

Realizing the vacant space would always be a powerful lure, in the late 90s Stearns County decided to invite the public rather than fight to keep them out.

"They made it into a favorable situation.  It's good for everyone involved," Kinney said.

Today, the old quarries are the footprint for the 683-acre nature preserve.  The park allows visitors to go rock climbing, scuba diving, trout fishing, hiking, cross country skiing and cliff diving.

"It's a little different from the diving board because you can't jump off of it," Priede Von Herber said.

On a sunny summer day, Lulu and Nora had their first experience with a free fall. They are jumping into the family friendly swimming quarry that opened this year.

"We wanted more families to come to the park and we want them to feel easier and safer to get into the water," Theismann said.

You might consider it the baby cliffs, the training ground before tackling the deeper, steeper quarry.

Finding Minnesota Waite Park Quarry
(credit: CBS)

"Somebody said it was 34 feet.  It's decently high, for sure," Nathan Williamson of St. Michael said.

In reality, the highest jump in the larger quarry comes in around 20 feet while the lowest around 10 feet.

Even at the lower height, Sara Wreisner found it requires some self-persuasion.

"It's a fear and so I want to overcome my fear," Sara Wreisner of Minneapolis said.

Eventually, most swimmers muster the courage to take the plunge and each swimmer has their own technique to launch themselves from solid ground.

"When you're in the air, you're in the air a moment longer than you think you would and that's when your gut goes, it falls, and gives you that rush," Williamson said.

Yet the real leap of faith was seeing value in these cliff walls.

"We're fortunate people stood up 10-20 years ago and said let's make this a park," Theismann said.

The park costs $5 per car. It is recommended that you be a strong swimmer before you jump into the quarries.

For more information on all that Quarry Park has to offer click here.


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