Explore the Doors fairy door tucked into the nook of a tree in West St. Paul.

Fairy Doors Bring Whimsy to West St. Paul Parks

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“When we moved to West St. Paul, we were surprised by the lack of fairy housing,” said local artist Travis Olson, who took it upon himself to bring fairies to West St. Paul in a project called Explore the Doors.

Now 16 fairy doors are hidden throughout West St. Paul parks. 

Why: It’s about creating opportunities for whimsy and wonder here in West St. Paul.

  • Creativity: “I think a fairy door is an invitation to step away from the play structures,” Olson said, noting that West St. Paul has plenty of those, which are great, but we can do more to encourage creative play.
  • Imagination: “Kids don’t need much to invent worlds. We just need to give them permission to do it,” said Olson. “Surprise and delight is part of the equation. That’s what fuels most of my professional work. And it’s nice that I can sprinkle a bit of that into the community as well.”

What’s a fairy door? They’re tiny wooden doors set into the nooks and crannies of trees. They have knobs and working hinges.

  • Unique: Olson scouted each location and custom-built the doors to fit.
  • Numbered: Each door has a numbered tag, encouraging people to find other fairy doors.
  • Buried: Some parks didn’t have ideal locations in trees, so Olson created doors with a short section of pipe to install in the ground.

What do kids do with a fairy door? “Anything they want,” Olson said. “They are their doors now.”

  • Free play: “They can decorate them, leave notes, create furnishings,” Olson said. “It really is something for them to do whatever they’d like.”
  • Hopes: “I hope that they leave stuff for other kids to find,” Olson said. “And that every time you come to a park, the door is the first thing you’ll check.”
  • In action: Kids were playing at Dodd Park while Olson installed the door and a parent asked what he was doing. “When I showed them the door, their kids instantly filled it with dandelions,” Olson said.

The Process

Rather than a rogue park activity, Olson went through West St. Paul’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for permission to pursue the project. A presentation at the March meeting pitched the idea and Olson installed the doors in May. 

  • Cost: The project utilized scrap wood. The main costs were hinges, door knobs, and the numbered tags.
  • Hidden in plain sight: Olson proposed locating doors in “a tree that could be accessible to 3-year-olds. Not the first thing you would see, but definitely not hidden in the depths of a tree grove.”
  • Maintenance: Longevity isn’t a problem for the project, it’s part of the charm. “They will weather and maybe grow moss. Perhaps rot over time,” Olson said. “If a door falls off, perhaps families will maintain them and continue to make them.”
  • Explore West St. Paul: During the Arts & Environmental Fair during Explore West St. Paul Days, Olson will host a booth with maps of the doors, instructions on how to make a door, and a coloring activity for kids.
  • Why all parks?: “It seemed like a worthwhile goal to visit them all (which I hadn’t) and hopefully other people discover some of the other parks as well,” Olson said.
Explore the Doors in West St. Paul map showing all the parks where doors are located.
Map showing all West St. Paul parks where a fairy door is located. (Note: No fairy door in Thompson Park since it’s a county park and required different permissions.)

About the Artist

  • Work: Olson is a designer and founder of Acre Design. He has a diverse body of work including Apple, Nike, Herman Miller, Microsoft, Lyft, Boomchickapop, 826 Minneapolis, Sonos, The Science Channel, and Blu Dot.
  • Home: Olson’s partner is local author Jackie Polzin and he is currently trying to design 4- and 6-year old Olsons.
  • Community: Fairy doors aren’t Olson’s first local art project. He also designed and installed the Little Free Library in the art park, built cardboard sculptures for last year’s parade, and helped lead the ‘how to parade’ clinic earlier this spring.

“Hopefully, this spurs more curiosity. And gives people permission to add a little more whimsy into their own lives.”

Travis Olson

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(Photos courtesy of Travis Olson.)

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