New post on River Life



Restoring a River, 2,000 Trees at a Time

by Patrick Nunnally

It’s becoming an article of faith among many professionals that “ecological restoration” is impossible, or, at best, a lot more complex than we used to think.  The most recent culprit for the “impossible” argument is climate change, which can alter a region’s hydrology so thoroughly that other biological and physical processes are irreparably changed as well.

A recent “Earth Journal” column in suggests there may be strong evidence for the “very difficult but not impossible” understanding of ecosystem restoration.  Writer Ron Meador interviewed Maria DeLaundreau, a Minnesota Green Corps participant hosted by the Mississippi River Fund, about her work restoring cottonwoods to the Mississippi River floodplain.

Cottonwoods are important, not least because they are large enough to be prime nesting sites for bald eagles.  Perhaps less well known, though, are the ways in which cottonwoods fix floodplain soil and, while water is high, provide important fish habitat.

But it’s that very high water that may be one of the primary reasons why cottonwoods seem not to be reproducing.  According to DeLaundreau, a 2011 National Park Service survey indicated that there may not have been reproducing cottonwood stocks for the past two decades or so.  Since cottonwoods have little direct commercial value, forestry studies have largely not explored why stands may be dying out.

To many of us city dwellers, the Mississippi River flood plain looks healthy, with robust stands of vegetation, a big river flowing south, and occasional boating traffic.  And it’s not the case that the floodplain is dying, exactly, but rather that its complexity is being reduced and the systems that make up a healthy ecosystem are being simplified.

Perhaps this is our best approach river restoration: one key piece at a time.  Aldo Leopold said that “to keep every cog and wheel is the first requirement of intelligent tinkering.”  The second requirement might then be “think of the system before trying to put any single part back in place.”



Patrick Nunnally | June 17, 2014 at 8:18 am | Categories: Planning, Science | URL:




John, Hawj: Make the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary a destination
By Sheldon Johnson and Foung Hawj
Rep. Sheldon Johnson and Sen. Foung Hawj represent St. Paul’s East Side in the Minnesota Legislature.
Posted: 02/07/2013 12:01:00 AM CST
Updated: 02/07/2013 05:36:13 PM CST

The Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary Cultural Center is a hidden jewel in St. Paul.

The size of 27 football fields on the edge of downtown, this city park is not only full of Minnesota history, it is a wondrous world of ecology with towering bluffs, prairies, wetlands and a cave that is sacred to the Dakota. Remnants and artifacts from Minnesota’s early rail and brewing industries, and its importance to diverse immigrant groups, add to its rich cultural significance.

You are not alone if you have never ventured to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. Opened to the public in 2005, it remains isolated. Close to downtown’s bustling Lowertown district, the sanctuary is separated by parking lots and industrial land. Fortunately, with revitalization and change coming to the eastern edge of downtown St. Paul, there is an opportunity to realize the full potential of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.

Step one: Connect the sanctuary to Lowertown.

The new Lowertown ballpark will be mere yards from the sanctuary, and connecting the two holds great promise. This connection must be planned carefully and include a prominent bicycle and pedestrian trail to improve access from the heart of Lowertown. The new ballpark should serve as a gateway to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and other destinations to the east.

Step two: Create a multi-faceted cultural center here.

St. Paul’s Great River Passage Master Plan designates the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

as one of a handful of priority “Gathering Places” along the Mississippi River. However, with no infrastructure, it is difficult to gather there.
A four-story, city-owned warehouse at the sanctuary entrance can become the gathering place the area needs. The structurally-sound building “shell” can be redeveloped as a multi-faceted center that celebrates the area’s American-Indian and Asian-Pacific culture, in addition to early St. Paul history, food, ecology and the arts. The space would be used for organizations, activities and events. Now an eyesore, a rehabilitated center can become a job-creating, vibrant spot where people can learn about the park, attend cultural events and enjoy stunning views of the river corridor and the downtown skyline.

St. Paul Parks and Recreation and the nonprofit Lower Phalen Creek Project have conducted initial planning, surveyed public support and developed cost estimates. The Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary itself has attracted national funding and acclaim, and more than $800,000 has already been raised and invested in purchasing the building site and cleaning up contaminated soils in the area.

The eastern edge of downtown St. Paul is a place where things are happening. Together, we must work to make sure that when the dust has settled, the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary is newly connected and improved — no longer a hidden gem, but a culturally rich destination that attracts people from around the region and beyond.

January 11, 2013 Patrick Nunnally

While it’s true that the title of this post could refer to pretty nearly anything, today the subject is the Dakota War of 1862 or, more properly, one particular reaction to it.

On Wednesday January 9, the St. Paul City Council passed a resolution commemorating the Dakota War, recognizing 2013 as “The Year of the Dakota,” and directing the city’s parks and recreation department to work with Dakota people and identify Dakota names for places on the Mississippi River in the city that are important to Dakota people.

Although we are not familiar with the particular group identified as a liaison organization to Dakota people, we hope to be helpful in river-oriented work that arises from this directive.

The story link is here, but, since the web site is challenging, the entire story is reprinted below, copyright 2013 St. Paul Pioneer Press.
St. Paul City Council commemorates U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

By Frederick Melo,
Posted: 01/09/2013 12:01:00 AM CST
Updated: 01/09/2013 09:38:47 PM CST

Taking its cue from Minneapolis, the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday, Jan. 9, passed its own resolution commemorating the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and recognizing 2013 as “The Year of the Dakota.”

The war resulted in the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men at Mankato in December 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Wednesday’s resolution was sponsored by council member Dave Thune, who said he hoped efforts to revisit the tragedy would allow reconciliation and serve to “initiate conversations that bring lots of communities together in the future.”

The resolution, which passed the council unanimously, was read aloud in front of several dozen onlookers, many of them members of the Dakota community.

Husband-and-wife Dakota activists Chris Mato Nunpa and Mary Beth Faimon told the council that the Dakota people still have many concerns about historic treaties, land arrangements, reparations and other issues that deserve to be revisited.

The council resolution directs St. Paul Parks and Recreation to work with the Dakota Bdote Restoration Consortium “to identify, name and interpret sacred Native American sites … from the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to Mounds Park.”

The resolution also notes that “every effort must be made to ensure the Dakota perspective is presented during the year 2013, through discussions at forums, events, symposia, conferences and workshops.”

The U.S.-Dakota War led to casualties on both sides. In the days leading up to the six-week war, tensions mounted over broken treaties and access to food and promised annuities, and on Aug. 17, 1862, a group of young Dakota men killed five white settlers near Hutchinson. Their chief, Little Crow, later led attacks that killed settlers near New Ulm, among other locations along the Minnesota River Valley.

During the war, Dakota women, children and the elderly were separated from the men and held at an internment camp at the base of Fort Snelling. On May 4, 1863, they were relocated to reservations in nearby states and Canada. Many young people were sent to boarding schools, where they were prohibited from practicing their native customs, including their faith.

Gov. Mark Dayton declared Aug. 17, 2012, a “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation” in Minnesota and condemned a threat by Alexander Ramsey, the state’s first territorial governor, to “exterminate” the Dakota people.

Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at on the opening of Coldwater Springs

The Park Service must leave Coldwater Spring
September 4th, 2012<– by Bruce White –> \

It is time for the National Park Service to leave Coldwater Spring in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The NPS, or its local branch, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), is unfit to manage this sacred and culturally important site which first entered federal hands through the Dakota Treaty of 1805. As reported in the last few days by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, MNRRA has largely completed the removal of the ruined Bureau of Mines buildings that marred the site for many years. Restoration of the landscape is continuing. Now it is time for NPS and MNRRA to leave this property and turn its management over to Dakota people for whom the spring is a sacred site and a place of traditional cultural importance.

Over the past six years the National Park Service has shown that it is completely unfit to be the steward for a site of such importance to Dakota people. Largely through the efforts of MNRRA Historian John Anfinson (as fully documented on this website), backed by his superiors in the Park Service, MNRRA has cut corners, stonewalled, and disrespected the requests of the Dakota people for a fair consideration of its cultural heritage. In 2006 the MNRRA rejected the finding of a respected consultant which supported Traditional Cultural Property status for Coldwater Spring as a Dakota site. This and many other aspects of MNRRA’s mismanagement of the traditional cultural status of Coldwater is described in detail in Chapter 5 of our new book Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, newly published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here, for example is a section on MNRRA’s rejection of TCP status for Coldwater Spring in 2006:

Despite this report and the earlier testimony of Dakota people, NPS staff announced publicly in August 2006 that they would not accept the study’s findings about Coldwater Spring. By that point the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area superintendent had already written to Dakota communities, stating, “After thoroughly reviewing the evidence provided in the report the National Park Service has concluded that neither the Center nor Coldwater Spring meet the specific criteria in the National Register to designate the area as a TCP.” The letter concluded by acknowledging that the spring had “significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people” and noting that “the spring is already a contributing element to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark and the Fort Snelling National Register of Historic Places District.” In recognition of the “contemporary cultural importance” of the site to the Dakota and the significance of the site in Fort Snelling history, protections
would be recommended.

The condescending words suggested that although the federal government rejected the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejected the history and cultural traditions on which the claim was based, the park service would try to protect the spring because it was part of a site important for, among other things, its role in colonizing Minnesota and sending the Dakota into exile in 1863. The area’s place in Dakota history was not significant; its white history was.

In the years that followed MNRRA continued to forestall any fair consideration of the TCP status, standing by the self-serving and cursory 2006 finding rejecting the TCP status of Coldwater. Then, as described in Chapter 5 of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota:

In January 2010, at the end of the environmental review process, the National Park Service announced it would retain ownership of the property for itself, to be used as a public park. The park service issued a press release: “The public’s interest in this site throughout this process illustrates the great significance that the Dakota and so many others attach to this special place . . . We are excited to be the caretakers, and to work with many partners to tell all the stories associated with this place. There are many layers of history associated with this site, from the Dakota to European settlement to 20th century mining technology.” Since the park service had consistently denied any historical or cultural connection of the Dakota to the property, the statement was surprising. Rejecting Dakota traditions and then using them in the agency’s historical interpretation appeared to add insult to injury.

Such statements also illustrated the hypocrisy of the Park Service’s entire environmental review process and the emptiness of its consultation with Dakota governments. Even today MNRRA continues to claim that it has consulted adequately with Dakota tribal governments and Dakota people. It lists the many letters it has written to various Dakota tribal groups. Unfortunately MNRRA can provide no comparable record of actual conversations that it has had with Dakota leaders or Dakota people or any case where it actually listened or learned from Dakota people. Consultation through one-sided correspondence is no consultation at all.

Clearly, from the beginning MNRRA had one goal only for Coldwater, to make itself the manager of a park. But MNRRA has shown through its cultural biases that it is unfit to manage a culturally significant and sacred place like Coldwater. The agency has finished its work of removing the ruins of the Bureau of Mines. Now it is time for MNRRA to leave.

Tags: Bdote: A Public EIS · Reclaiming Mini Sota

The Falls of Minnehaha flash and gleam
By Steve Date | 08:10 am   From MinnPost – with permission

To see all photos go to

Visitors sometimes break the rules get a better view from under the ledge.
“Where the Falls of Minnehaha
Flash and gleam among the oak-trees,
Laugh and leap into the valley.”

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls – photo by Steve Date

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis became well-known after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words in 1855 in Song of Hiawatha. The “laughing waters” tumble 53 feet from a Platteville Limestone ledge as Minnehaha Creek nears the end of its 22-mile journey from Lake Minnetonka to the Mississippi River.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak visited Minnehaha Falls in September of 1893, shortly after publication of his “New World” Symphony. It’s been reported that he lingered at the falls for over an hour, and was quite taken with the view. “It is so intensely beautiful that words cannot describe it,” he said. Having no paper available, the story goes that he wrote a musical theme in rough form on the cuff of his shirt, which later became the slow movement of his Sonatina in G major, opus 100.

Visitors today not only enjoy views from above the falls, but staircases take them down to the base, where a recently rebuilt pathway allows for an easy hike to the place where Minnehaha Creek flows into the Mississippi River.

I spent a couple of hours recently walking from the falls to the river with my camera.

Minnehaha Park is one of the oldest parks in the celebrated Minneapolis Park system. While there’s much more to do there than gaze at the falls, the “laughing waters flashing and gleaming among the oak trees” remains the main attraction and a truly beautiful place to spend a couple of hours.

There’s no sign that says “Take photo here,” but there probably should be.