Organizers of the first Schooner Days in 1964 had an ambitious motive for setting up the event, complete with a parade, skydiving, carnival rides and hootenanny music, in a pasture east of Flying Cloud Airport.
“Not many people know where Eden Prairie is,” Lions Club member Larry Wilson told the Minneapolis Star in a June 4, 1964, story. “We’re trying to put it on the map.”
Though what part Schooner Days played in putting Eden Prairie on the map is hard to measure, one thing is unmistakable. Over the years, Schooner Days has grown into a much-beloved early-summer tradition for generations of Eden Prairie residents.
“We get a lot of kids coming back that are in their 20s and 30s,” said Gary Watkins, the Eden Prairie Lions Club’s past president who serves as its communications manager. “They say, ‘I’ve been coming to this thing for (years).”
Food, folks and fun
This year’s annual Eden Prairie Lions Club’s Schooner Days rolls into Round Lake Park, 16691 Valley View Road, for the weekend on Friday.
Hours are 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 3, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 4, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 5.
Activities include carnival rides, children’s games, a bingo tent, food, beer (including Fat Pants craft beer plus wine and hard seltzer), music, and a pickleball tournament on June 4. (Registration for the pickleball tournament closed May 25.)
Watkins said it’s the Lions Club’s biggest fundraising event.
All profits made during Lions Club fundraisers are donated. None of it is used to support Lions Club operations. Funds from Lions Club members support its operating budget.
Since July 1, 2019, the club has donated $110,150 for public safety, scholarships, social and community services, vision, hearing, diabetes and other foundations, and animal rescue and nature centers.
This year, organizers expect the crowds to be back to levels not seen since the pandemic began. Watkins estimates the three-day event will attract about 2,000 or 3,000 people if the weather cooperates.
There were no Schooner Days in 2020 (the only year since 1964 that it was canceled). Turnout at last year’s event, put together quickly, was about 70 percent of normal.
“Everything is going to be there, the carnival and bingo,” Watkins said of this year’s event. “We’re expanding our beer selection, with more craft beers.”
Admission to the event and parking are free.
General parking is across Valley View Road in the community center and high school parking lots. Golf carts will shuttle people to and from the lots. Handicapped parking and the drop-off area are at the Round Lake Park tennis courts.
What is a schooner?
Schooner Days pays homage to prairie schooners (covered wagons).
The schooner was considered the showpiece of the first Schooner Day (it was only one day then) in 1964. It continues to serve that purpose today.
Gary Watkins said the schooner currently displayed by the Lions Club during Schooner Days and August’s Corn Feed is not the original one.
“No one remembers the whole story, but apparently the original one was in rough shape, so it was sold in the mid-’70s,” Watkins said. “The current one was purchased soon after and was rebuilt by a team of 4-5 Lions.”
He said the significance of the schooner comes “from the fact that covered wagons were sometimes called prairie schooners which connects with the prairie in Eden Prairie.”
The Lions Club stores it in a garage at True Friends Camp Eden Wood when it’s not on display.
“It’s great to have parents/grandparents make up some stories about what the west was like in the 1800s,” quipped Lions Club member Gary Stevens.