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A look inside Pirtles Park and Ehlers Park (with video)

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WORTHINGTON -- Residents of Worthington have likely seen Ehlers Park at one time or another. Whether one is driving, running, biking, rollerblading, or walking around the lake, the park is one of the most visible in Worthington.

Another fairly well-known fact is that the park is named after former longtime Worthington park superintendent A.J. (Hap) Ehlers, who assumed his role in the 1930s. There's also a lesser-known story behind Ehlers Park.

"Ehlers and his family lived in the caretaker's house in Chautauqua Park, and he operated a park store there," former Daily Globe editor Ray Crippen explained. "He had a deer pen with three or four white tailed deer where Ehlers Park is today. There was no road around the lake, and people would drive as far as they could and walk to the deer pen."

In present-day Worthington, white-tailed deer may seem to be a commonplace sight -- or even a nuisance -- but in years past, that was a different story.

"At that time, there were no deer in Southwest Minnesota -- it was an oddity," Crippen said. "The deer came south eventually, as they followed the cornfields."

So, although Worthington lacks even a petting zoo today, "It was 'Worthington's Zoo', and it was a real attraction," Crippen added. "That is another reason why it is called Ehlers Park."

In another twist, Ehlers Park was originally named Sunrise Park, and was renamed in honor of Ehlers years later.

Amenities include a shelter with picnic tables, three grilling stations, playground equipment, a popular boat launch, lake breezes and greenspace.

Pirtles Park

Crippen's book "The Names of Nobles County" provides an interesting background on the smallest park in Worthington. Pirtles Park has the distinction of being the only Worthington park that has been moved to a new location -- and the only park whose former location was originally a garbage dump.

The original Pirtles Park was located on a triangular piece of land on Murray Avenue. It's named after Jack Pirtle, who was a repairman, installer, and maintenance man with the Worthington Telephone Company. Crippen described him as a "pioneer telephone worker."

The Pirtle family lived on Sherwood Street, on the northwest side of the original location of park that bears their name. Mick Flynn, Pirtle's co worker, remembered how the park came to be:

"That park was the dump for the east side (of Worthington); there was a big hole there," Flynn remembered. "This was in the 1930s. (The) Pirtles lived across the street. Of course, it was not an asset to their property to have a dump there.

"Jack Pirtle made a deal with the city. He said he would buy the property and fix it up and then deed it to the city for a playground if the they would maintain it. That was how they worked it out, and that was how it came to be Pirtles Park."

The park remained on Murray Avenue for several decades and, in 2003, the city bought a tax forfeited property on East Avenue and moved it there. Now, the .08-acre park has a small playground area, a red bench and a sign that still proclaims the place as Pirtles Park.

It could be said that the Pirtles Park sign could claim to have Worthington's tallest park sign, as it requires a slight glance upward to see the entire marker. The park entrance is flanked by two tall pine trees that stand on either side of the short sidewalk extension leading to the playground. The city also maintains the former park as a green space.