Vesterheim’s new Heritage Park will value the community and the environment

Decorah, Iowa


Photo courtesy of Vesterheim
Currently, Vesterheim houses 12 historic buildings.

Vesterheim, the national Norwegian-American museum and heritage center, announces plans for the transformation of its open-air division into Vesterheim Heritage Park: an educational, interpretative, and public outdoor space designed by Damon Farber, the award-winning landscape architectural firm from Minneapolis, and Snøhetta, the renowned international architectural firm with offices in New York City and Oslo. Heritage Park is part of an overall master site plan created for Vesterheim by Snøhetta.

“This exciting project will not only enhance museum programming but serve as a welcoming and accessible community gathering space as well,” Chris Johnson, Vesterheim’s president and CEO, said. “The design utilizes a Norwegian forest-and-glade concept, with extensive tree plantings surrounding a scattering of open areas for public gatherings, the interpretation of historic buildings, educational functions, and folk-art classes—there will even be a small amphitheater for performances!”

The pathways will be ADA accessible, and landscaping will incorporate many environmentally sensitive elements, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Water Quality Initiative Urban Conservation Project. Vesterheim worked with Amy Bouska, eastern Iowa’s urban conservation program coordinator, on the grant.

As the grant outlines, the plans for Heritage Park will implement four primary practices to transform a currently underused, traditional mowed lawn into a densely planted, tree-covered landscape, with features that improve infiltration, reduce nutrient and sediment runoff, and demonstrate sustainable stormwater management. These practices include soil quality restoration, native landscaping, a bioretention cell, and permeable pavers. Through successful implementation and maintenance, these practices demonstrate the importance of reducing negative impacts contributing to the impaired water conditions of the nearby Upper Iowa River.

Vesterheim Heritage Park

Image courtesy of Vesterheim
Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center, announces plans for the transformation of its Open Air Division into Vesterheim Heritage Park—an educational, interpretative, and public outdoor space designed by Damon Farber, the award-winning landscape architectural firm from Minneapolis and Snøhetta, the architectural firm based in Norway.

“In our master planning process, we are making a shift toward sustainability, and this is an early step in that direction,” Johnson added. “The Heritage Park plan recognizes our relationship to the Upper Iowa River, which historically used to run next to our property, and our continuing responsibility toward it.”

A groundbreaking celebration for Vesterheim Heritage Park is scheduled for early May. Details to follow. Work is slated to be completed in the fall. During construction, outdoor tours will be discontinued, and access to the area will be restricted to ensure visitor safety. Construction work will be temporarily suspended over Nordic Fest, Decorah’s Scandinavian celebration, July 24 to 25.

Vesterheim, the national Norwegian-American museum and heritage center, in scenic Decorah, showcases the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk and fine arts, and explores the American immigrant experience. For more information on the museum’s exhibitions, classes, events, membership opportunities, and ways to donate, visit Vesterheim’s website at, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim, 523 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.