|The Coldwater Landscape and 2011 Restoration Plans
What do the Dalai Lama and Osama bin Laden have to do with Coldwater? Read the Friends of Coldwater comment to the National Park Service regarding the Restoration of Coldwater Spring and Reservoir Area.
By Susu Jeffrey for Friends of Coldwater
April 7, 2011
The 1880s were one decade in Coldwater Spring’s 10,000 years (1). The Coldwater area has great value to all Americans as a Native American site. With the discovery of a 9,000-year-old bison spear point by Minnesota state archeologist Robert Clouse at the Sibley House dig in Mendota in 1996, we learned people were in the area 9,000 years ago.
Two years after the Louisiana Purchase, the 1805 Dakota-Pike Treaty included Coldwater as part of a federal reservation “extending nine miles on each side of the river…from below the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Peters (Minnesota), up the Mississippi, to include the falls of St. Anthony…for the purpose of the establishment of military posts.”
From 1820-3, Lt. Col. Henry Leavenworth’s U.S. Army troops camped beside Coldwater Spring while building Fort Snelling from limestone rock mined out of the Mississippi bluff. Coldwater furnished water to Fort Snelling from 1820-1920. The area became a de facto extension of Minnehaha Park, 1920 to 1950, and was even labeled “Coldwater Park” on Minneapolis maps. The U.S. Bureau of Mines established the Twin Cities Research Center (TCRC) for metallurgy and mining research on 27-acres of what has become the Coldwater campus from 1950-91.
In the summer of 1976, the fenced and gated Cold War research facility at Coldwater was opened to south Minneapolis residents whose city tap water got funky (2). It was a very temporary opening. Most neighbors stayed clear of government facilities during the communist red-scare years.
In 1991, the Soviet empire collapsed and a quirky Congress completely defunded the Bureau of Mines. That same year, at the urging of historian Dave Fudally, the Minnesota Historical Society erected a plaque commemorating “Camp” Coldwater where civilian pioneers gathered around the Fort. These settlers went on to found the state making Coldwater the “Birthplace of Minnesota.”
By 1995 the Coldwater campus was deserted and became an orphaned federal property. Invasive, exotic buckthorn and garlic mustard began taking over. Gradually local people explored the formerly forbidden site, especially environmentalists resisting state plans to reroute Highway 55 along the narrow west border of parkland above the Mississippi River.
Park and River Alliance challenged MnDOT in federal court in the early 1990s only to have their suit dismissed on a technicality. Then Stop the Reroute formed with Sierra Club backing and morphed into Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition. During the 17-month encampment, 1998-99, to save Minnehaha Park and the Spring area from the state’s construction plans, hundreds of middle class environmentalists, Earth First! activists and Native Americans learned about and drank Coldwater Spring water.
Native elders would lecture at the camp, everyone smashed together in the big teepee. “Un-Kte-Hi,” a Dakota deity-god-animal representing waters and the underworld, inhabited Coldwater. This Spirit was also associated with Pilot Knob at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi, and at Boiling Springs in Savage. (See Paul Durand’s Atlas of the Eastern Sioux.)
Originally MnDOT proposed dynamiting for the Highway 55 reroute and piping-in city water as was done at Theodore Wirth Park for Interstate-394. That construction permanently dewatered the Great Medicine Spring and Historic Glenwood Spring. The I-394 corridor funnels about 2.5-million gallons per day through the sewer system directly into the Mississippi. The practice of piping-in city water was employed for years after I-94 construction cracked Loring lakebed in downtown Minneapolis.
Coldwater Spring is considered the last major natural spring in all of Hennepin County since the William Miller Spring in Eden Prairie comes out of a pipe on the downhill side of Spring Road.
In 2001, Coldwater supporters led by Mary Weitz, got a protection bill through the state legislature and signed by Gov. Jesse Ventura. The bill was the brain child of Rep. Mark Gleason (D-Richfield) and championed in the state senate by Julie Sabo (D-Minneapolis). The Minnesota House passed the bill first. The Senate voted for the bill the day after His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to a combined House-Senate session.
The Coldwater Protection act went into effect the very week the MnDOT/MCWD (Minnehaha Creek Watershed District) law suit began. We were told thanks but MEPA (Minnesota Environmental Protection Act) would suffice for an environmental win. Guess what? MEPA was useless but our new law forced the transportation department to redesign the Highway 55/62 interchange. MCWD traced the flow through the proposed interchange by dye teststo Coldwater.
On September the 11th, 2001, the World Trade Towers in New York were destroyed by Saudi Arabian-led terrorists resulting in an airline economic collapse. Jim Redsky Anderson, Cultural Co-Chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community remembers that “one good thing” evolved out of the disaster: Coldwater was not sold to the airport for $6-million for off-site parking and storage.
In 2003, the orphaned Mississippi blufftop property was given a future by Congressman Martin Sabo who secured a $750,000 federal appropriation to begin the process of returning Coldwater to “open parkland.” The National Park Service was named manager of the old/new park in 2010 and the process grinds slowly toward a vision of restored beauty.
Water is the essence of Coldwater and its preservation and protection is paramount. Nevertheless the frame, around which the 2011 restoration project is funded, is the 1880-period limestone Springhouse and reservoir.
Friends of Coldwater notes the primacy of funding to begin the restoration of the property with this codicil from Sue Ann Martinson: “The Spring has flowed generously for 10,000 years, yet all the focus is on the man-made accoutrements of very recent history of the Spring circa 1880. It is as if the Spring, which is the core and life of Coldwater, is invisible. The Spring is the center, the raison d’être for all the rest of itNative American and Euro-American history alike.
“And as such, it should be the first focus, the first concern, with all revolving around the water, not around man-made history that would not exist without the Spring.”
The Coldwater Landscape and 2011 Restoration Plans
The U.S. military designed the Coldwater waterworks in 1880 as a storage and pumping station to furnish water to Fort Snelling. It was a military-industrial model with paved straight lines and right angle earthen terraces on the north, west and south sides of the reservoir.
The concept that the National Park Service/Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (NPS/MNRRA) is recreating an 1880s scenario doesn’t fit the pictures describing the restoration plan. Luckily!
In 1880s photographs Coldwater Creek was disappeared. Not even a dent in the land shows. It appears that every drop of spring water was captured and transported away.
By the 1880s burr oak trees along the Mississippi blufftop had been felled, probably for firewood, and the area appears to be oak-less savanna. In the 60-years of European settlement, 1820-80, the immediate environment had been radically deforested making it susceptible to erosion. No wonder they had to terrace.
Unlike what we see in the photographs describing the Coldwater restoration, Friends of Coldwater was told there will not be any buildings and there will be a creek with an almost waterfall (a riffle) at the top of the bluff. Furthermore we were told of prairie oak savanna restoration plans.
We see today a remnant of the burr oaks lining the Mississippi blufftop with the oak grove in Minnehaha Park and also burr oaks on the north and south ends of the 27-acre Coldwater property. In the 1880-90s photographs, only second growth toothpick trees are visible which don’t appear to be oaks.
We challenge waiting to plant. Burr oak reforestation should begin next fall and be watered-in. These are slow growing native trees. In this time of water uncertainty and ferocious storms, trees help to stabilize the soil.
John Gebhardt wrote: “Coldwater Springs area needs to be restored to a pristine and natural condition. This means plenty of shade trees such as burr oaks and cottonwoods. The large weeping willow tree (beside the reservoir) must not be disturbed in any way. A variety of native prairie plants and grasses are very important to help prevent further erosion on the Coldwater site.”
Only “ground cover” was mentioned in the NSP/MNRRA plan. Cottonwoods would probably grow where you don’t mowthe way they sprouted in the former volleyball court just north of the Spirit Tree. People who spoke about this plan like the cottonwoods and want the burnt maple (Spirit Tree) trunk respectfully left alone.
The photograph “Waterworks, ca. 1905” shows two sizable evergreens center-left. Coldwater supporters thought there had been enough tree-killing and ask that all evergreens be left in place to hold the soil, clean the air and provide wildlife habitat. These evergreens are exotic but not invasive.
The “green screen” of evergreens at the property line planted by the Bureau of Mines is still important for sheltering the parkland, its wildlife and human visitors. Coldwater supporters want the “green screen” to fill in all along the highway-parkland boundary.
Berry bushes were historically around the area, and river grape. Since the NPS/MNRRA plan calls for no trees immediately around the reservoir, perhaps berry bushes would be H.C. (historic-ly correct) as well as erosion controlbecause already by the 1890 photos the terracing around the reservoir had “softened.”
In just 10 years the landscape lost its linear edges. Terracing requires upkeep. We think money invested in soil-holding vegetation would be a better investment than terracing around the reservoir.
The Diversion Ditch
Friends of Coldwater rejects the diversion ditch plan parallel to the southwest and south ends of the reservoir.
1) It would become a dog magnet.
2) The ditch would carry away most waters except the main flow at the Springhouse. Spring water burbles up from underneath the warehouse beside the reservoir (Building 4) and forms two creeklets. This is constant and more than drainage off the hillside. It helps fill Coldwater reservoir. Less flow into the reservoir would encourage algae growth earlier in warm months and more ice in cold months.
3) We know that 30-percent of the flow to Coldwater dropped during MnDOT dewatering for construction of the 55/62 interchange to the southwest. Part of the interchange is now sunk 6.5-feet down into the water table (to accommodate airport height restrictions). Coldwater had dual sources originally, like two arms of a “Y” from the southwest and northwest. Cutting off the left, southwest, arm is another “diminishment of flow” which is illegal under the Coldwater protection act of 2001.
4) There would be increased evaporation from a separate water channel just outside the reservoir, plus loss into surrounding soil.
5) Since highway construction, MnDOT’s court-ordered monitoring reported a drop of the flow rate of almost 20-gallons per minute (gpm). Before construction dewatering, from July 31, 1998 through December 5, 2000, Coldwater averaged 89.9 gpm or 129,456 gallons per day (gpd). In the 20 months of court-ordered monitoring post-construction of the Hwy 55/62 interchange, from November 2004 through June 2006, the average flow was 70.77 gpm or 101,908 gpd. The difference is 27,548 gpd, nearly 20 gpm.
According to Water Quality Specialist Udai Singh, Ph.D., Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the Coldwater flow now averages 96,000 gpd. Since June 2006 when court-ordered monitoring stopped, to February 2011, Coldwater appears to have lost another 5,000 gpd.
Friends of Coldwater suggests adding a lip for water flowing into the reservoir at the southwest and south ends to maintain the flow rate and to better protect the reservoir walls and prevent further erosion. We emphasize working with existing water paths since water seems to have a memory and could cut back to its former path. Furthermore Coldwater flow measurements must be consistent in case of further court challenges. Highway 55 is due for reconstruction in about 20-years.
There is a pipe, with about a 4-inch diameter, with water flowing into the reservoir on the west limestone wall, about a foot higher than the water level and perhaps 8-feet from the south wall. It is almost invisible, but it has kept flowing and clean all these years. Coldwater Spring is not one flow, it is more sieve than hose.
A large pipe is visible in the color photo labeled “Reservoir outflows over wall and then goes into the culvert.” That large pipe appears to be plugged.
Recontouring the Land
The Bureau of Mines moved a lot of dirt around during the TCRC period for construction of their Main Building housing administration and laboratories, the ore bins, Crusher Building, warehouses, library and bunkers. Friends of Coldwater is thrilled to finally see plans for the removal of all buildings and roads, and especially for the daylighting of Coldwater Creek from its culvert incarceration.
We like the concept of mowed, not paved, paths throughout Coldwater Park.
However we are concerned about $60,000 of dirt fill (John Anfinson’s estimate in conversation) with only “ground cover” to hold the soil. Most of the fill plan is aimed at the steep incline around the ore bins and below (east of) the reservoir. We understand this fill plan is economically linked to the expensive heavy equipment used for razing the buildings and roads but unless the fill is stabilized, it’s false economy.
The Reflecting Pond
The importance of linking beauty to sustainability has gone underappreciated. Beauty has been treated as a purely subjective value, as nothing more than personal opinion. Repeatedly, we have overridden our experience of the world as a place of beauty and denied our longing for it.
Sandra B. Lubarsky, Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Coldwater’s heart is the spring outflow and reservoir which functions as a reflecting pond. When people speak of Coldwater, the limestone Springhouse and reservoir is the picture they say is in their mind’s-eye.
Friends of Coldwater has unanswered questions about earth moving plans around the reservoir.
1) Why recreate the terracing around the pond when historically it will not stabilize if planted only with ground cover? Terraces are maintenance-heavy.
2) Why “excavate earth near the reservoir wall edge to match the level of the sidewalk shown in the historic images?” For years groundwater and stormwater has been running into the pond and it is clear to the bottom (about 5-feet). The pond water does not need to be human-drinking water quality. It seems like an excessive expectation when the water already spills down the gorge into the Mississippi.
3) Do you plan to keep ducks out of the pond in the winter?
We agree that the west hill behind the spring needs to be graded more gently to avoid silt in the pond and pressure on the back reservoir wall. What is the plan to hold the hillside in place beyond “ground cover?”
Sue Ann Martinson is a great fan of the pond. “The pond beautifully reflects what is around it: the willow tree, the sumac, powerfully green in summer and the reds and golds of fall. People often come to Coldwater to meditate. Just being at Coldwater has a relaxing effect, as the cares of the day fade away when looking at the sky in the pond. Coldwater is recognized by many as a very special place.”
Coldwater’s Reflecting Pond has a mesmerizing quality. The water is always moving. The place is alive. Dragonflies zip above the surfacethe Dakota word for dragonfly translates as “mosquito hawk.” In winter hundreds, literally hundreds of ducks get along together in the pond at a density that astounds. Coldwater is a place for all seasons.
Erosion at the Springhouse
And now for the major concern: “Fix the erosion near the Spring House as best as possible. Possibly build a wooden stairs down to the outlet.”
No to a stairway down to “the outlet.” The “outlet” is inside the Springhouse, it is not a pipe.
1) A stairs to the pond level will invite water-dogs to enter the pond. According to Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Annie Young “there are more dogs in Minneapolis than children.” And there is dog crap everywhere.
2) People, including children, might feel the urge to jump in the water on a hot summer’s day. It would be too easy to slip or be pushed into the cold water of Coldwater (about 50-degrees F.) and not be able to get out.
3) Dakota and Anishinabe peoples repeatedly taught us to collect spring water only where it exits Mother Earth.
Eddie Benton Benais, a fullblood Ojibwa spiritual elder from Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in northern Wisconsin and Grand Chief of the Mdewiwin Society (Medicine Lodge), described Coldwater in court-ordered testimony (3/19/1999). Benais said Coldwater is “a neutral place... sacred grounds that were mutually [among all tribes] held to be a sacred place.”
He spoke about “my grandfather who lived to be 108, died in 1942 [born 1834]. I will tell you this. Many times he retold how we traveled, how he and his family, he as a small boy traveled by foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be these great religious, spiritual events. And that they always camped between the falls (which came to be known as Minnehaha Falls) and the sacred water place.”
4) We like the idea of a stairway inside the Springhouse for water collection. We hope the Springhouse includes signage to briefly explain the traditional Native American view of its sacredness. It also needs to be fenced to keep dogs out.
5) Reroof the Springhouse. Allow river grapes to grow there again.
In addition to rejecting a stairway to a pipe for spring water collection, the human safety and dog problems, we believe the erosion will not be contained with stairs cutting a swath one foot from the natural springhead. In fact for years we gathered spring water where it issues out of the rocks behind the Springhouse because the pipe was stopped-up and water filled the Springhouse.
Eric Evenson, administrator for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the hydro agency responsible for Coldwater, explained the method for dealing with hillside erosion. “You have to fix it above and below.” The fix would involve regrading and filling the top of the hill, and plugging the collapsed stair well to encourage the water back to the main springhead.
As parkland, Coldwater will become a publicly accessible living example of geologic history to 351-million years ago, the age of the Saint Peter Sandstone where Coldwater Creek and waterfall empty into the Mississippi at the NPS island. Friends of Coldwater envisions Coldwater as an 80-acre unban wilderness, from the spring to the river. We advocate that Coldwater gets special billing as America’s first Green Museum, a place where the land itself is the teacher because the land is the public legacy.
Friends of Coldwater asked supporters “What do you think of when you think of Coldwater?” A visual of the Springhouse and reflecting pond came up repeatedlyclean water, the music of the water, a peaceful, contemplative ambiance. Tiffany Eggenberg, a Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community member, wrote a poem that covers the Coldwater experience.
I can hear her sing
I visit her to purify and cleanse
To absorb the vibration she sends
I visit her to feel serene
To absorb the calming scene
I visit her to offer a prayer
Because I truly care
I know I've made a good choice
When the sound I hear is her voice
Can't you hear her sing?
The feeling she gives is so tranquil
I pause at the view from up the hill
I enter the labyrinth on a path
Pure and welcoming, a spiritual bath
My ancestors gathered here
To me, the reason is clear
I visit her to feel the heartbeat
Where people and waters meet
Can't you hear her sing?
Finally, Friends of Coldwater asks NPS/MNRRA to accommodate public access during the destruction/construction period for, at least, water collection. Sure as Coldwater flowsthat 8-point stag, the foxes, coyotes, otters, etc. and people, are drawn to this place that is commonly considered sacred.
1. Kelton Barr, geohydrologic consultant for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, estimated Coldwater’s age at 10,000-years. Barr added that the spring might have been flowing under more than the last glacierhe would have to compare ravines along the Mississippi to determine pre-Wisconsin glacier evidence.
2. “In 1976 after months of drought the city water developed an algae that was putrid & undrinkable by my husband who was very sick at the time. I made trips every other day to [sic] Coldwater Spring & stood in line to get the best tasting fresh water. We were so thankful for this vital resource. If it is still not polluted it should be a National Treasure!” Carolyn L. Lyschik now of Little Falls, MN.