Volunteer Spotlight: Scott Ramsay

Ramsay has been leading the Friends of the Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County as president for three years, and vice president of the 30-year-old group for a couple of years before that.

Scott Ramsay is an enthusiastic volunteer but, he admits, he’s a somewhat reluctant leader.

“I consider myself to be OK as a leader,” Ramsay says, “but I’d rather be in the trenches.”

Nevertheless, Ramsay has been leading the Friends of the Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County as president for three years, and vice president of the 30-year-old group for a couple of years before that. His volunteer work with the Friends started 27 years ago, about the same time he began working at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield.

Ramsay is the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy’s 2023 Volunteer of the Year for Friends of the Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County. He’s been a hands-on kind of guy throughout his career in natural resources.

He talked about his love of parks, trails and what the Friends organization does to promote support and appreciation of natural spaces.

Right from the start

When Ramsay studied to be a natural resource planner in geomorphology at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s, he got involved with efforts to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from mining. After graduation, when President Ronald Reagan cut funding to natural resources and data became computerized, Ramsay volunteered at a nature center and was hired as a seasonal worker. That led to full-time work for 10 years at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, and then Wood Lake Nature Center, where he’s a professional interpretive analyst, leading tours and organizing visits by school groups.

He got involved with Friends of the Parks and Trails board when they sought his natural resources experience for the group.

What’s happening with Friends of the Parks and Trails of Saint Paul and Ramsey County?

The organization is going through a rebrand, Ramsay says, working to reimagine and rebuild for the future. “It’s not as easy to get volunteers as it once was,” he says. “We’re figuring out what our niche is now.”

Friends will continue advocating for good and responsible parks, Ramsay says, with a current push for equality – working to have all parks in the city and county equally funded and maintained.

An eye on Pigs Eye and more

Ramsay has an eye on the Pigs Eye Regional Park along the Mississippi in St. Paul. The “beautiful area has been dormant for a long time,” he says. There are efforts underway to improve access to the park, which is the city’s largest, with 404 acres of land, around a roughly 500-acre lake.

He’s also focused on Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood. Ramsey county has acquired land nearby that is a treasure for grassland habitat, and Ramsay wants to keep it preserved. “There’s an amazing diversity of birds and wildlife there that’s found nowhere else in the Twin Cities,” he says.

Pride in projects

Ramsay worked closely with recent work to improve the natural shoreline of Como Lake at Como Park in St. Paul. He was once a docent at Como, giving tours of the park.

He’s also worked with Phalen, Keller and other golf courses to create prairie habitat as part of the golf courses. “Many courses are treating courses like wildlife habitat – composting and recycling water – amazing conservation habitats.”

Friends of the Parks and Trails used to have a tree sale that resulted in more than 8,000 trees planted in St. Paul and 20,000 or more in Ramsay County (and some in Hennepin County.)

The organization works to ensure “No Net Loss of Parks,” Ramsay says. When park land is lost to development, Friends of the Parks and Trails, “gently nudged” city planners to develop a program that makes sure there’s a park of equal size and quality nearby.

Ramsay is proud of the work that was done to create park space and resources when the Ford plant site in St. Paul was redeveloped for housing and retail. People from Friends of the Parks and Trails were on a task force that worked on the plans, he says. The project has parks and recreation resources worked into the new Highland Bridge area.

He’s also worked with development of dog parks, including those in Highland and at Arlington and Arkwright.

Why get involved?

St. Paul doesn’t have the staff or time to care for all the parks, Ramsay says. Volunteers are essential to better communities and better Parks.

“That’s where you go and meet your neighbors – out in the park,” he says. “It’s a gathering spot.” 

Green spaces are healthy, Ramsay says, with trees cooling the urban landscape and creating better air quality. Spending time in nature improves mental and physical health, he adds.

“Parks belong to you. You’re paying for it,” he says. “We’re the state capital. We ought to have the best parks in the state.”

Groups like Friends of the Parks and Trails and the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy are so important, helping the city and county build, maintain and grow parks, Ramsay adds.

More time to volunteer?

Ramsay, 65, says retirement from his full-time job at Wood Lake Nature Center isn’t far off. He and his wife, Dana, would like more time to travel and enjoy the outdoors.

The Ramsays live in Shoreview and spend a lot of time at nearby Sucker Lake, he says. Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, biking and yard work – “My wife and I are outside all the time.”

Turkey hunting is a favorite for Ramsay. “The wild turkey is the ultimate upland game bird,” he says. “In camouflage, you become part of the ecosystem and see amazing things.”

Interview conducted and written by Kathy Berdan