Sometimes, all it takes is a photo to get things started.
On Dec. 30 last year, Emily Norling, Waite Park, posted a photo a friend had taken at Powderhorn Park and a question on the Nextdoor website. The photo showed a simple wooden container filled with plastic sleds and a crudely-lettered sign that read, “Free Sled Library. Use a sled and put back when you’re done.” Norling wrote, “If there are any handy people out there that would want to build this at Audubon or any other local hill I’d spring for a sled or two!”
Within seconds, Nextdoor was it up with responses ranging from “I’ll buy a sled” to “Let me know when you’re going to build.”
Thomas Ebert, Windom Park, manages the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library. He volunteered his organization’s help in supplying the tools and building the racks and opened his Venmo account to take monetary donations from Nextdoor neighbors for lumber and sleds.
Billy Richards, who lives near Huset Park in Columbia Heights got so excited, he built two sled libraries on his own, in his living room. He made sure one was installed at Keyes Park at 1345 45 1/2 Ave NE. (He took the other to Cavell Park, 3435 Fillmore Street NE.) “I had a day with nothing planned, and the lumber,” he said. “I like doing stuff for the neighborhood.” A sledding and snowboard enthusiast, he said he wants that experience available to everybody.
Richards is also a member of the Arcana Masonic Lodge at 927 Lowry Avenue NE. He talked to his lodge brothers, and they volunteered to chip in for the lumber to build more libraries. “We’re always looking for service projects,” he said.
Ebert, in the meantime, had talked to Tom Siwek at Siwek Lumber, 2536 Marshall Street NE, about purchasing untreated two-by-fours to make four racks, which would be painted. Siwek told him to use the money to buy sleds, and donated more expensive pressure-treated lumber to the cause. He also offered the lumber company’s purchasing power to help Arcana buy sleds at a discounted price, and to connect the builders with Sign Minds, 1400 Quincy Street NE. “We like to give back to the neighborhood,” Siwek said, “and we support endeavors that help children. It was important to us to participate.”
Ben Janssens, Sign Minds, said the signs would be made of a durable, high-quality outdoor plastic. “I like the concept of the sled library,” he said. “It seems like a worthy cause.”
With materials donated and Arcana supplying sleds, Ebert and Norling discussed keeping some of the donations they had received in reserve to buy replacements for sleds that are damaged or aren’t returned.
On Jan. 10, Norling, Ebert, Richards and Arcana member Charley Beekman gathered at the Tool Library to cut the donated lumber. Norling’s five-year-old son, Bodie, was along to help. “Are we building a sled?” he asked. His mother explained that they were making racks to hold sleds for kids that don’t have them. “I am helping good,” he replied. “I have my goggles on.”
Ebert, Richards and Beekman looked over the basic design. While Richards’ sled libraries were painted plywood boxes, Ebert had come up with a simple wood frame to hold sleds. “I thought it should be something a park manager could disassemble quickly at the end of the season,” he said. “Just loosen six screws and store the sides flat against a wall.”
Go-getter Richards immediately headed toward a saw. Beekman assessed the number and sizes each two-by-four needed to yield and kept a running inventory in his head the entire afternoon. Ebert, the more deliberate of the three, carefully measured and cut wood.
Norling started out chopping wood, with the appropriately-dressed Bodie holding the boards. It was a job he seemed to like. When she went to screw two boards together for the base of a rack, he soon lost interest and went back to hold boards for Richards, then Beekman.
The afternoon was waning. Bodie and his mother needed to leave, but before they departed, she went out to her car and retrieved a chipboard sign she had designed. The men continued cutting wood, and Beekman stacked them in ready-to-assemble kits.
As they worked, they discussed the various tool manufacturers and discovered that the Tool Library and Arcana Lodge had common cause: Community service projects. (The Tool Library is just finishing a project creating 500 desks for St. Paul students distance learning at home.) Neither party had heard of the other previously, but they talked about getting together in the future to work on other projects.
The men decided to fully assemble one rack before calling it a day. “I think it needs more bracing,” said Richards. Beekman agreed. “Kids are going to climb on these and play in them. They can destroy things so quickly.” They quickly cut the braces, using up their wood supply. Then they assembled the rack and attached Norling’s sign to the top.
One of the four racks is slated to go to Windom Park. Linn Drury, a member of the Free Sled Library group, is working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to place them in other parks. Audubon and Columbia Parks, which have big sliding hills, would be good candidates.
Below: Charley Beekman, Billy Richards and Thomas Ebert brandished their cordless screwdrivers after completing one of the sled racks. Emily Norling designed the sign. Emily Norling showed her son Bodie how to drive a screw into wood.