Cairns Woods is a beautiful woodland area located on North Cairns street, just off Highway 65 North. Through the generosity of Gertrude Cairns, and in tribute to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Cairns, the 34 acres of land was purchased at a generous discount by the Village of Ellsworth in 1949 to be used as an educational demonstration forest. Local Boy Scouts kept the trails groomed for all to enjoy.
In the late 1970s, the park was forgotten. With the passage of time and changes in Village leadership, ownership of the property was questioned. Was the parcel owned by the county? Was it under the management of the DNR? The only activity that took place there for nearly fifty years was mischief and logging to sustain the forest.
In October of 2018, a community visioning event called Design Ellsworth was held. Among the many ideas and dreams residents had for Ellsworth were walking trails. Several area residents came together to create Ellsworth Trails, a group formed to create safe, multipurpose trails throughout the community to inspire outdoor recreation and improve connectivity.
As committee members poured over area maps and debated about first projects, a wooded parcel on North Cairns Street was identified. Upon further research of the property, and after discovering the park’s history, Ellsworth Trails adopted the park as their first trails project. With support from the Ellsworth E3 Community Development Corporation, they approached the Village’s Parks, Recreation, and Development Committee with a simple plan to restore the trails at Cairns Woods for the community. The Village Board granted their request with the understanding that Ellsworth Trails would be responsible for park maintenance.
In late 2019 and early 2020 planning began in earnest but as the hands-on work was about to begin the COVID-19 Pandemic consumed the community. As the worst of the pandemic began to subside, work on the park began again. Under the leadership of Steve and Sherry Marson, committee members and area residents rolled up their sleeves and got down to work clearing over-grown trails and installing trail markers. Local resident, Mindy Anderson, transferred the network of trails to a map. Wood benches were constructed and strategically placed along the trails, allowing hikers to sit and enjoy the quiet solitude and beautiful views.
The Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce conducted a ribbon-cutting event in October of 2021 to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work of Ellsworth Trails. The Ellsworth High School Marching Band performed, just as they did during the original park dedication in 1949.
The once overgrown and lost trails are now groomed and ready for exploring or spending quality family time in nature. The Ellsworth Public Library incorporates the park into their youth and family programs seasonally. Spring and fall are especially beautiful at Cairns Woods Park, with spring wildflowers and stunning red, gold, and orange autumn color thanks to the many basswood, red oak, elm, and hard maple.
Ellsworth Trails has plans for additional improvements to the park, which include a trailhead kiosk, a small dedicated gravel parking area, and a rustic open-air classroom. Donations for these improvements are being accepted from businesses and community residents who share their vision for more recreational opportunities in Ellsworth. To make a donation or join the Ellsworth Trails Group, contact Steve and Sherry Marson at 651-380-2580.