St. Anthony Falls: The recreation perspective

At our recent Water Over the Dam panel discussion, Dan Dressler, public programs manager at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service, spoke about St. Anthony Falls from the recreation perspective. His comments are summarized and condensed below:

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the 72 miles of the Mississippi River that flows through the Twin Cities. It’s one of 417 units of the National Park Service.

It’s helpful to understand that here on the state level, the Mill City Museum is run by the Minnesota Historical Society, where Fort Snelling State Park is run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Those two agencies are responsible in different ways for those two different areas. At the national level, the National Park Service is serving both those functions. When you go to Grand Canyon National Park, there’s a park ranger. When you go to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, there’s a park ranger.

With St. Anthony Falls, I think of both of those functions in microcosm. Is St. Anthony Falls just a natural feature on the Mississippi River or is it a historic site along the Mississippi River? In a lot of ways it’s both and I think that makes it very interesting.

When I think about recreation, and all the different things people come to the parks for, they come to the parks for lots of reasons. Here, the falls can be both like the Grand Canyon, a place you make a destination, and like your local park, with the soccer fields – where you spend a lot of time because that’s where your kids like to go. It’s transitioning, thanks to people such as Peggy Lucas, people who can envision a different area. Fifty years ago this area was nothing at all park-like, it was industrial, unapproachable not only from a welcoming aspect but also just physically, you couldn’t get down to the river. Today you see that transformation, and we’re still in the midst of it. So much has happened along that shoreline in terms of places such as the Mill City Museum and other sites along the way, but when I walked down along the Stone Arch Bridge today, I can hear St. Anthony Falls, but you can’t actually see the falls until you make it around the lock and dam.

As we think forward into the future, we need to keep moving toward that spot where the river can be accessible. We’re working on that with the National Park Service, where last year we took over operations of the lock and dam and made that space accessible, where you can walk up to the observation deck or take a tour out onto the lock walls with a park ranger and see the falls up close. Anything we can do to make the water itself accessible is the way to go. St. Anthony Falls can be a destination like the Grand Canyon. For those who come to Minneapolis from out of town, one of the things you have to do is come see the falls. But for those of us who live here, it can be an everyday kind of park, a park where you walk the dog after work, go for a bike ride with your family on the weekend, or come watch wildlife. I saw a bald eagle today on my walk, flying over the Mississippi River.

You can go on a hike, you can see wildlife, you can see this natural feature, you can experience history, and when you’re done you can go to a nearby restaurant, have a drink, have dinner and be home for bed.

I’m happy the National Park Service is part of it and I look forward to seeing how it changes in the future.

The economic
Peggy Lucas 

The Native American
Darlene St. Clair 

The recreation
Dan Dressler 

The developer
Neal Route 

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