The future of Coldwater— will it be part of a national park?


The future of Coldwater Spring, currently flowing at about 90,000 gallons a day, is in the hands of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Soon, the DOI will announce what public entity will “own” this 10,000-year-old spring. And whoever “owns” it could directly impact the future of the spring.

When Hwy. 55 was rerouted, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) promised “no adverse impact” to Coldwater Spring, which is losing more than 27,500 gallons daily since construction ended, according to MnDOT’s own measurements. In a huge bureaucracy, with multiple spokespeople, no one is accountable.

The 55/62 interchange will be rebuilt in 20-some years. There is enough land for a full cloverleaf if Highway 55 is expanded into a freeway. Whatever agency is responsible for the 27-acre Coldwater property must be powerful enough to force MnDOT to obey the law.

In 2001 the Minnesota legislature passed a law mandating no “loss of flow to or from” Coldwater Spring. No Minnesota court, watershed district, or citizen’s group was able to enforce compliance by MnDOT, the state’s richest, most powerful agency. In the late 1980s the Great Medicine Spring in Theodore Wirth Park and historic Glenwood Spring were permanently dewatered with construction of I-394 west out of Minneapolis.

The National Park Service (NPS) tops the list of best available overseers. Coldwater is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) under NPS jurisdiction and a National Historic Landmark. Coldwater supporters believe federal ownership is the best hope for protection and preservation of the county’s last natural spring since the majority of interstate highway money comes from federal funds.

The Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community (MMDC) called for a conservation easement at Coldwater to “cover all 27 acres in perpetuity and also that the site be managed by the National Park Service” in August 2000. At the time a $6 million agreement to sell the property to the airport for parking and warehouse space looked like Coldwater’s future. But the deal fell through with the economic airline collapse after the World Trade Towers catastrophe. “It was the only good thing to come out of 9/11,” said Jim Anderson, MMDC’ s Cultural Chair.

Before white settlement, Coldwater (Mni Owe Sni, “water-spring-cold” in Dakota) was a sacred gathering place for Dakota, Anishinabe, Ho Chunk, Iowa, Sauk and Fox peoples. Anishinable spiritual elder Eddie Benton Benais from Lac Courte Oreilles, Wis., recounted in court-ordered testimony how his grandfather “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 (Minnehaha) and the sacred water place (Coldwater). Those are his words.”

Only the federal level offers recognition to Native Americans.

In 1805 Lt. Zebulon Pike signed a treaty with two (of seven) Dakota leaders for permission to build a fort between the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and the falls now called St. Anthony. The fort exists but the treaty has yet to be tested in court.

In 1820, Lt. Col. Henry Leavenworth ordered troops to build huts at “Camp Coldwater” and begin cutting limestone out of the Mississippi bluff to build a fort. Fort Snelling attracted pioneers who subsequently founded the state of Minnesota.

Coldwater furnished water to Fort Snelling from 1820 to 1920 and was listed on various maps as “Coldwater Park” from the 1880s into the 1940s. In the late 1950s Coldwater was briefly considered as a nuclear power plant site but became a Cold War research campus where taconite was developed. Since 1991, when the Cold War ended and Congress terminated the U.S. Bureau of Mines, this Mississippi blufftop property has been up for grabs.

Sacred site, birthplace of Minnesota—this stretch along the Mississippi is arguably the most historic in the state. Coldwater supporters are calling for NPS ownership of a 50-acre “Coldwater Park” (including 2-blocks of Veteran’s Administration land) from the south end of Minnehaha Regional Park to Fort Snelling State Park. Coldwater Park is envisioned as an oak savanna urban wilderness designated as a Green Museum, a place where the land is the museum.

To comment on Coldwater’s future, e-mail Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Department of the Interior at or phone 202-208-7351 (e-mail preferred).

Consider calling or copying your email to:

Congressman Keith Ellison 612-522-1212 or
Senator Amy Klobuchar 612-727-5220 or
Senator Norm Coleman 651-645-0323 or
More info at