Coldwater Spring: America’s First Green Museum

Susu Jeffrey

Coldwater Spring is over 10,000 years old and the last natural spring in Hennepin County. The Creek and waterfall empties into sandstone bedrock over 451 million years old. At the top of the bluff where the spring flows out of bedrock fractures, the limestone is 438 million years old. Everything after that time was scraped south by glaciers, which is why we don’t have native earthworms.

Mni Owe Sni (Dakota: water-spring-cold), located above the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, was a traditional gathering place for Upper Mississippi Indian peoples including Dakota, Anishinabe, Ho Chunk, Iowa, Sauk and Fox (within historic memory). Particularly blessed by water and considered sacred was the 2.5-mile stretch from what is now called Minnehaha Falls through Coldwater to the b’dota, the meeting of waters or confluence. Coldwater became the “Birthplace of Minnesota” when army troops camped around the spring from 1820–23 and mined limestone bluffs to build Fort Snelling. Pioneers arrived and built cabins at Camp Coldwater to service the fort with meat, trade goods, whiskey, translators, guides, women and missionaries. Coldwater furnished water to the fort from 1820–1920.

From the 1880s to 1950 “Coldwater Park” was labeled on area maps. The Bureau of Mines established a Cold War facility to research metallurgy and mining on 27 acres around Coldwater from 1950–95. In 1988 the U.S. Congress established the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) under the National Park Service, a 72-mile long spaghetti-shaped parcel of critical habitat along the great river from Dayton to below Hastings.

Friends of Coldwater envisions Coldwater Park as an 80-acre urban wilderness from the top of the gorge to the river, America’s first Green Museum — a place where the land is the legacy. Coldwater still flows at about 80,000 gallons a day.

The best thing for people to do to protect and preserve Coldwater is to come to Coldwater, to feed the spirit of this last sacred spring in our area. On Fridays from about 2:30 to 4:00 PM, Friends of Coldwater staff the site for people with questions but mostly because it is a beautiful, peaceful place to be. We can show you where and how to gather spring water. We also host a monthly Full Moon Walk at 7:00 PM on the day of the full moon.

Friends of Coldwater also keeps in touch with the National Park Service and promotes any public meeting where Coldwater issues are being discussed and decided. It will be at least 20 years before the scars from the Bureau of Mines days at Coldwater fade and the to-be-planted burr oak and prairie savanna plants settle in and thrive.

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