For 14 years, the Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail (EFEIT) has served as an outdoor science and history lab.
The nearly mile-long trail in the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area in Eden Prairie shines a light on the historical habitat with seven signs that dot its path.
Now, Vicki Pellar Price, a longtime Eden Prairie resident who shepherded the trail to reality in 2007 as director of Writers Rising Up, is taking her efforts a step further. (The mission of the non-profit Writers Rising Up is to promote writers who portray place, natural habitat, and wetlands in their work.)
Price and author Susan Thurston-Hamerski are writing a book about Ellet and the other authors and artisans featured on the signs.
When the book is complete, she envisions it as a companion tool for those exploring the trail.
“The goal of the book is to bring the trail experience to more locals and people interested in preserving habitat as well as the intersection of literature, art, walking, and history,” she said.
Elizabeth Fries Ellet, an ‘amazing author’
Price has learned much about Ellet, the prolific author credited with naming Eden Prairie.
Local history books describe Ellet traveling along the Minnesota River in 1852 and climbing a river bluff to see the prairie in bloom. She gushed that the area reminded her of the Garden of Eden.
Returning to St. Paul, she urged the place be called Eden Prairie.
“Ellet was an amazing author,” Price said. “She did so many different things in so many different genres.”
Ellet is one of the first women to write about women’s history. She did so in two books: Women of the American Revolution and Queens of American Society.
Ellet’s book, Summer Rambles in the West, details her trip to Minnesota.
“She was very inquisitive and adventurous and insatiable,” Price said. “Much different than women back then. They were all dressed up with pointed shoes. What was Ellet doing? She was out there camping. And sleeping in a tent and suffering through mosquitoes.”
Noted writers of the 1800s in Minnesota
James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau are among the venerable authors and artists to be featured in the book.
Price said most of them visited Minnesota.
“Thoreau visited the area about the same time as Ellet,” she said. “He came with a relative, and he was sick. He died not long after his trip here. He went around seeing all the things (Ellet) did, except he was focused on the plants.”
“The goal of the book is to bring the trail experience to more locals and people interested in preserving habitat as well as the intersection of literature, art, walking, and history.”Vicki Pellar Price
Cooper wrote a series of five novels called Leatherstocking Tales. One book was titled The Prairie.
“They were interestingly fiction, but they were based on many historical aspects of the American Indian, focusing on their culture,” Price said. “He was well known for that.”
As for Poe’s role, Price is still digging into it. She’s not ready to divulge much yet.
“That’s a whole big story,” she said. “That’s actually a second book. I’m doing a lot of research on that now. Pretty provocative.”
Enhance the experience
Price envisions the book appealing beyond Eden Prairie’s borders to a wide demographic, including children, nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and educators.
“The book will expand the EFEIT experience to an audience beyond those who do not reside in our area and to those unable to walk the challenging terrain,” Price said.
It will also introduce a hands-on project list.
One, she said, that “everyone can pursue related to the historical period in which Ellet and the writers and artisans represented on the interpretive signs lived.”
Price has always been interested in the “congruency of history, writing, and art.”
She studied art and art history at the California Institute of the Arts and has degrees in literature and writing from Hamline University in St. Paul.
“The EFEIT project was an opportunity to foster these lifelong interests into a platform with an educational, learning center focus,” she said.
Price and Thurston-Hamerski, the author of the book Sister of Grendel, are working on an outline for prospective publishers. The two became friends while in the Hamline writing program.
“She has some expertise in editing and putting a product out there that I really don’t have,” Price said of Thurston-Hamerski.
It will take about a year before the book hits the shelves.
“We’re getting the initial phase done and seeing how these publishers react,” she said. “One way or another, someone is going to pick it up.”
The tale of the trail and Price’s journey into Eden Prairie and Minnesota’s past through nature and literature will continue.
Writers Rising Up is a 501 (C) (3) non-profit organization, and donations are deductible. For more information, visit the website.