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The Campus, The River, The Park, and the Connection Between the Three

April 15, 2014Molly Wangen-BeckerEventsComments Off on The Campus, The River, The Park, and the Connection Between the Three

As a University along one of the greatest rivers of the world, most of us are aware of the Mississippi flowing beneath our feet as we walk across the Washington Avenue Bridge, but not many of us know we are actually studying, working, learning, and growing in a national park. To shine light on the connection between the University of Minnesota campus, the river, and the park we gathered on April 8th for a Water Walk with park ranger, Dan Dressler, and our own, Pat Nunnally.

Starting from this month’s campus hotspot, Northrop Auditorium emphasized the connection our campus has to the river, as even Goldie made a guest appearance on our walk. Taking a few short steps to Arlington Street we were already at the edge of the Mississippi, staring over to the West Bank of campus glimmering against the water. Aside from the great view, this is the point where the end of the park board and the university property shift, further portraying our symbiotic relationship.

“Why here?” Dan Dressler asked of the significance of a national park along the river. According to park services there’s more than one reason why the Mississippi national river and recreation area was chosen to include the 72 miles of river that pass through the Twin Cities. In this stretch, the river changes more than anywhere else. Starting as a small shallow river, the Mississippi flows through the only significant falls and gorge in the course of the river, as well as locks and dams to open up by St. Paul near Fort Snelling to become Mark Twain’s rendition of the big, open, mighty Mississippi. Although the park owns virtually none of the land within its boundaries, the government was looking at the entire river when declaring the park in hopes of conserving the river and its surrounding ecosystems.

We tend to think of national parks to be places like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but most historic sites in the country are park service sites. In the Twin Cities we see the river as a natural resource but it also holds a lot of historical significance. The Twin Cities are here because boats were impassible through the rapids of the falls. Over time St. Paul became the head of navigation and Minneapolis the center of industry due to the food industrial revolution at the falls. Today, the Twin Cities are the largest metro area on the entire length of the river.

Our dependence on the river is undeniable, which is why a partnership between the park services and the university is crucial. River Life serves as a teaching, research, and engagement resource to the park board, building both long and short-term capacity for partners through student interns, projects, and classes. With 30,000 undergrads on the Twin Cities campus, the size of a small city, we can bring change to help and promote the sustainability of the river.

So let a friend on campus know that they are in a national park right now, and stay tuned for further details because River Life will lead a walk every Tuesday this month!

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A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.