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In the early 1960s, MnDOT planned an eight-lane freeway in the Highway 55/Hiawatha corridor and began condemnation proceedings against businesses and homes in a wide swath. Whole blocks were razed but citizen resistance to a spacious freeway design through long-established neighborhoods held construction away for more than 30 years. Attorney and former gubernatorial candidate Mike Freeman was on a citizen's committee in 1985 that recommended a four-lane roadway, located in the same alignment as the old route. That committee was replaced by a more compliant committee.

MnDOT acquiesced to a four-lane highway but routed it through parkland with a mass transit option in the old highway alignment from 52nd Street south along Minnehaha Avenue to Highway 62. In the early 1990s the area’s first light rail transit (LRT) line, originally scheduled for the 35W corridor, was shifted to the Hiawatha corridor.


In 1996 Park and River Alliance sued MnDOT, the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park Board in federal court. The case was not decided on its merits because the Alliance had exceeded the time limit for an appeal, although construction adjacent to the park had not started.

Four Oaks Spiritual Encampment - the second encampment established by opponents of the Highway 55 reroute.
– photo ©
In 1998 the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community along with several individuals sued in state and
federal courts for Native American cultural properties studies, burial site investigations, and violation of state and federal environmental laws. The two-year suit against state and federal transportation departments, the federal Department of the Interior and state archaeologists resulted in mediation, archaeological digs near “the Four Oaks” and two days of testimony by native elders from various tribes.

In one federal court appearance in 1999, a MnDOT tree expert testified that “the Four Oaks,” four indigenous burr oaks growing in a diamond pattern facing the cardinal directions and considered a sacred site, were not old enough to be “marker trees” signifying a sacred landscape. MnDOT’s Dan Gullickson told the court the oaks were only 137 years old (1999 minus 137 equals 1862).

1862, the year MnDOT claimed the Four Oaks were planted, was the year of the Dakota Uprising. Denied food and financial allotments, some starving Dakota warriors warred against white settlers living on their former subsistance hunting grounds. Estimates of white deaths range from 600 to 1,000; native deaths were not recorded. In an orgy of collective punishment, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato the day after Christmas in the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.
The occupation of the Cottonwood. Located next to the creek on Highway 55. September 1999.
– photo ©
Hundreds of Dakota people, including women, children and elders, were imprisoned over a brutal winter on the Minnesota River flats below Fort Snelling. About 1,300 of those who survived were shipped out to Nebraska in an overcrowded riverboat comparable to the “middle passage” of captured Africans sent to the New World. Native elders theorize that the Four Oaks were placed as a sign to future generations of sacred land. The context of the 1862 “marker tree” planting was never permitted in the case.

The archaeological firm MnDOT hired found “nothing significant” in their shallow 2-foot-deep excavations. The findings of a later Coldwater Springs study by state archeologist Robert Clouse were never made public. Through mediation, MnDOT compromised on protecting the flow to Coldwater Spring by elevating two sections of the 55 reroute at 50th and 54th Streets.

In 2001, Friends of Coldwater sued in county court to be included in the watershed versus MnDOT case as an intervener. At issue was the interchange at highways 55/62, which cuts into the underground flow of water to historic Coldwater Spring.

The 55/62 intersection is designed to be 35 feet below the former land surface to accommodate height restrictions for the north/south runway extension at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Coldwater is in the flight safety zone mandated by the Federal Aviation Authority. The runway extension idea floundered in 1998 after Northwest Airlines cancelled its planned nonstop flight to Hong Kong that required a longer runway only on very hot, humid summer days. The 4/22 runway is used just 3 percent of the time.

The runway extension was "indefinitely postponed" after 9/11. Since the financial airline crash following 9/11, Northwest Airlines is ordering smaller planes for direct flights, moving away from the "hub system." Why was it never “too late” to reconsider the now-unnecessary runway extension?

MnDOT’s 1985 Environmental Assessment for the Highway 55 reroute did not mention Coldwater Springs. The airport’s 1999 Environmental Assessment declared the proposed runway extension would “not have an effect on the integrity of the historic features of the Camp Coldwater Spring/Reservoir.”

Watershed geohydrologists measured a 30 percent decline in flow to Coldwater as construction began.

The court refused intervener status to the Friends of Coldwater on grounds that the watershed speaks for the citizens! If the BWSR rules go into effect the precedent of claiming that the watershed is the same as "the people" means "the people" have no recourse to watershed decisions.

Citizens opposed to the 55 reroute were forced to take extreme actions to try to protect Minnehaha Park and Coldwater Spring. Millions of dollars in police hours were wasted, history was ignored, people and cultures were disrespected, the state transportation agency was caught spying illegally on protesters, and finally the project was halted for minimal redesign.

The Coldwater area is located along the Mississippi River gorge above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Coldwater park land includes the bluff-top greenway and wildlife corridor that stretches from Fort Snelling through Minnehaha Park.

Camp Coldwater - Birthplace of Minnesota
by Bruce White and Dean Lindberg

Camp Coldwater Facts
Compiled by Susu Jeffrey

Airport runway 4-22 extenstion map
Includes route of Highways 55 and 62 and Coldwater location
(this is a large file - allow time to load)

(clicking on a link below opens a new window. Close to return here)

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District

Minnesota Department of Transportation - Highway 55

(clicking on a link below opens a new window. Close to return here)

Faces of Resistance
Photography by Michael J. Bayly.
An attempt to document the resistance of a diverse yet united group of people to MnDOT's rerouting of Highway 55. Specifically, these photographs cover that period of resistance from
the establishment of Camp Two Pines in August 1998, to the present day.

Occupation of the Cottonwood
Photography from
Stop the Reroute of Highway 55; September - October 1999.

The Four Sacred Oaks
Photography from
Stop the Reroute of Highway 55; December 1999.

The Occupation of Highway 55
Site dedicated to Stopping the Reroute of Highway 55 by Tom Taylor
Link active when posted. Site last updated April 2000.
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Friends of Coldwater is a Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation