The earliest successful city on the Mississippi River was not St. Paul, or even Minneapolis. It was Prescott, Wisconsin, founded in 1840 where the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers converge 30 miles southeast of the Twin Cities.
Here, high above the rivers, Dakota scouts once scaled the bluffs for a birds-eye view of the valley below and the possible infiltration by their enemies, the Sioux. It was here an immigrant named Philander Prescott built the first wooden cabin and helped establish the busy river port. For the next 60 years, immigrants traveling up the Mississippi by steamboats landed here and moved into Wisconsin and Minnesota to start their own farms. It was here busy logging companies floated their timbers down the St. Croix for shipping down the Mississippi to the Gulf and the Eastern cities beyond. By 1896, Prescott was filled with hotels, restaurants, banks, and everything needed by the steamboat passengers who traveled to see the beauty of the heartland.
William Cullen Bryant once said, “This area ought to be visited by every poet and painter in the land.”
Last Sunday I took the short drive to this once bustling river town and stood in Freedom Park with its spectacular views of the river valleys below. There were no Sioux warriors stealthfully dipping their paddles in the swift currents, but plenty of cabin cruisers and sailboats quietly floated by in the sparkling waters.
While Freedom Park is not new, its visitor center and beautiful landscaping are recent additions. Here visitors learn a variety of history lessons and get a wealth of information and viewing of the American bald eagle and peregrine falcons that soar up and down the valley along with a large variety of other birds and butterflies.
Outside, the grounds hug the bluffs with opportunities to view, learn and experience this magnificent area. With plenty of picnic tables and benches, it is a delightful place for family gatherings or quiet contemplation.
Every Thursday to mid-October, the park hosts a farmers’ market from 3 – 7 p.m. On Sundays, August 17, 24, and 31, children ages 3-8 can create their own butterfly art project or walk through the butterfly gardens. On August 26 at 1 p.m., children 5 – 12 can take a nature hike in search of edible plants. And, once the leaves turn to their brilliant fall hues, this will be a canvas of colorful foliage stretching as far as the eye can see.
Across the river and a few miles north on the St. Croix Trail, the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center offers its own special scenery and fall events. Saturday, September 27, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. is the Fall Raptor Release. The nearby apple orchard will be full of freshly picked apples, raspberries, and more. Saturday and Sunday, October 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. the center celebrates the fall harvest with special events, food, live animals, and spectacular fall colors.
Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com.