University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

About Patrick Nunnally

As the coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s River Life program, Pat Nunnally works to establish lasting relationships among the University of Minnesota and groups working on river sustainability. In the past two decades, Nunnally has developed a unique practice as a consulting historian, communications manager and interpretive planner, with a focus on rivers, trails and scenic byways. He has organized events and conferences with a Mississippi River connection, and has presented his work at numerous academic and professional meetings. He’s also worked with public agencies and private firms on many planning projects for culturally sensitive sites. Nunnally’s writings have appeared in a variety of forms, including the ongoing blog River Talk. His latest published piece is a short reflection on the importance of diverse stories in shaping an inclusive future for the Mississippi River. The City, the River, the Bridge, an edited collection of essays examining the consequences and aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse, will appear in January 2011. Since 1999, Nunnally has served on the U of M faculty, teaching classes in landscape planning and urban studies. He holds graduate degrees in English, American studies and landscape architecture from Vanderbilt University, the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota.

Why Treaties Matter: It’s All About Relationships

Treaties, such as the series of documents between representatives of the United States government and people native to this continent, are fundamentally about establishing relationships between people.  This is probably why there are such particular laws spelling out how treaties are made, and is why it is so important that we all understand the histories of the treaties that the United States has signed with Indian people.

A traveling exhibition, Why Treaties Matter, has been touring Minnesota since last summer, with dates scheduled into summer 2016.  The exhibition and accompanying virtual exhibit and web site, are the result of a collaboration between the Minnesota Humanities Center, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.  Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment supported the project through a grant.

The exhibition opens at Century College West Campus on March 2 and runs through March 14.

The exhibition and web site are essential to understanding the nature of Minnesota’s land and water.  Voices of Indian people are heard describing the multifaceted considerations involved in understanding treaties as historical and legal documents.  The educators guide and classroom materials are rich and extensive.  Among the wealth of perspectives one message in particular is clear: tribal nations manage lands and waters; lands and waters managed by other public entities have in their history a relation that was established through a treaty.

Why do treaties matter?  Treaties matter to our understanding of our proper relationships to the Mississippi River, to this place more generally, and with each other.

“The Once and Future River”: a Discussion You Won’t Want to Miss

Towboat at SunsetHold the dates of April 8-10, 2015 for the symposium “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change,” to be held at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  A preliminary program is on the symposium web page, where updates and registration information will be posted in the coming weeks.

The program begins Wednesday April 8 at 7:00 with a talk by Jim Rock, well-known Dakota scientist and educator.  Discussions continue all day Thursday and conclude Friday morning April 10.

We all know that there are many ways people make the Mississippi River part of their lives, whether through their work, as a subject of study, a place for recreation, or as that bit of nature we go to for healing and rejuvenation.  We rarely question what the Mississippi River really is, what it means (especially to people whose background is very different), or what its future will be.  Our imaginings of the Mississippi are often dormant, unquestioned, just “there,” like the river itself.

Climate change is changing the Mississippi, though, and, some think, changing the ways we ought to be thinking about it.  These are the conversations that will begin in April.  Sessions all feature speakers from academic disciplines as well as realms of practice not located in the academy.  We will hear from Dakota people, for whom the river has always been central to their concept of “home.”  We’ll see some innovative short films that are suggestive of the river’s future.  And we’ll have a chance to talk and learn with other passionate river people from across the region.

So–save those dates!


Bruce Chamberlain to be Inaugural Minneapolis Parks Fellow

February 12, 2015Patrick NunnallyPlanning1

The efforts to plan and design open space along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis received a substantial boost this week with the announcement that Bruce Chamberlain would be the inaugural Minneapolis Parks Fellow.  As Fellow, Chamberlain will concentrate on the Water Works project in the Central Riverfront, and the Halls Island/Scherer site in Northeast.

The role of Parks Fellows is to connect the broad vision of new park development with the strategic planning that bridges the project through to construction.  Chamberlain, a former Assistant Superintendent for Planning at the Minneapolis Park Board and vice president of a local planning and design firm, brings great skills and expertise to the role.

The Mill City Times post on Chamberlain’s appointment contains the press release from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, and the Parks Foundation’s web site covers the story as well.

As a long-time participant in riverfront planning, design, and program activities, I particularly appreciate Chamberlain’s skill at listening to diverse perspectives and ensuring that all feel that they have been heard and respected.  This habit of deep engagement may slow a project down initially, but is absolutely essential for community acceptance of new projects in such valued landscapes as the Mississippi Riverfront.

A Sip of Science: Indigenous People and Plant Genetics

We tend to have many prejudices and assumptions about both parts of next week’s talk, that is, indigenous people and genetically modified plants.  Come to A Sip of Science at the Aster Cafe on Thursday February 12 (note changed date) to hear Prof. Clint Carroll, American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota, on these subjects.  Full announcement follows below:

From Mother Corn to GMO: Indigenous Peoples and Plant Genetics
Clint Carroll, American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota

THURSDAY, February 12th, 2015  5:30p.m.  
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!


A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

February 12th Event –

Humans have modified food crops to produce desirable traits since the birth of agriculture, but today this modification mainly occurs at a plant’s genetic level. The ever-growing prominence of genetically modified (GM) foods, and the debates they have sparked, are an unavoidable part of our lives today. But what are the implications of this increasing amount of technology involved in food production—including the patenting and commodification of genetically modified crops—for, specifically, American Indian peoples? How do biopatenting standards privilege certain forms of modification over others? How might a concept like “food sovereignty” work to heal American Indian communities and decrease colonial dependency? Join us as Dr. Clint Carroll addresses these questions and more through indigenous perspectives on intellectual and cultural property, and the recent indigenous traditional food movement.


The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase


Clint Carroll is an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California-Berkeley and a B.A. in Anthropology and American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. Clint is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and works closely with his tribal community on issues of environmental policy and cultural revitalization. His forthcoming book, Roots of Our Renewal: Ethnobotany and Cherokee Environmental Governance (University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2015), situates this work in the context of broader discussions of tribal governance and political ecology. He teaches courses on American Indian ecological perspectives and environmental issues.



A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Get more information at:



We All Live Downstream

This truism, which is often described as a basis for a true water ethic, applies even here in Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  Minnesota is also a state that is increasingly aware that the health of those lakes, and by extension the health of humans, is at risk.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune posted an article Sunday that very clearly outlines connections between the state’s forests, expanding agricultural land uses in former forest lands, and the impacts on groundwater.  In and around the small community of Park Rapids, expanded potato fields (French fries, anyone?) are threatening to increase nitrogen content in the region’s ground and surface waters.  More fields brings more irrigation as well as agricultural chemicals, which end up in the lakes, rivers and aquifer.  Downstream? The Twin Cities, with 1.7 million people dependent on the Mississippi River for their drinking water.

One of the article’s strengths is that it does not blame.  Agricultural operations are at the heart of the change, but operators are doing a great deal to reduce their water and chemical use.  The real problem, according to the state hydrologist, is that “we didn’t see this coming.”

Another “wake up call,” like the shrinking lake levels in White Bear Lake, located northeast of St. Paul.  Those of us downstream had better pay attention.  As the freshwater conservation director for the state’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy puts it, it is much easier and cheaper to protect water sources than it is to repair them.

This is How Change Begins: Forum on Closure of St. Anthony Lock

A week ago, the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership held a forum on the future of the Minneapolis Central Riverfront after the closing of the Upper St. Anthony Lock.  Dave Tinjum, publisher of the Mill City Times, filmed the session and has made it available.  Dave does yeoman work for the communities around the Minneapolis riverfront and we want to thank him publicly for the dedicated community service he performs.

The video is conveniently divided so that viewers can skip to any of the particular speakers, go straight to the questions, which were highly interesting and well-informed, or simply view the entire program.  A quick summary of some of the key points each speaker made:

  • Council Member Jacob Frey welcomed the group and offered his sense that the Central Riverfront holds tremendous potential as part of the economic revitalization of this part of the city,
  • Architect Tom Meyer, who has been part of the St. Anthony Falls riverfront for better than 40 years, described how the lock at Upper St. Anthony was completed in the early 1960s, just as the great age of industrial milling was coming to a close.  After a period where the area lagged behind investments in the rest of the city, a number of key events took place in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s that set the stage for the historic transformation that will happen when the lock closes.
  • Nan Bischoff is the project manager for the lock transition effort at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.  She too has deep experience in the area, which forms part of her perspective as she organizes the studies and analyses that will lead the agency to recommend whether to keep the facility although it is essentially nonfunctional, or transfer all or part of the facility to another public entity.  The processes are driven by federal rules and regulations, and she assured the crowd that there would be plenty of opportunities for public comment.
  • Janna King, President of Economic Development Services, Inc. completed a study of the economic impact of closing the Upper St. Anthony lock.  While the general impact, in terms of more trucks on local highways, a loss of jobs, and potential economic increase from recreational river use is fairly well known, her studies provide a large number of important details.  Nevertheless, measured at a broad level, the impact to the region is estimated at a $22 million dollar loss, measured out over some 25 years.
  • The last panelist to speak was John Anfinson, Superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the local unit of the National Park Service that covers the Mississippi River in this area.  A professional historian, Anfinson pointed out that the lock’s construction was the result of long-running competition between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and that it was barely economically feasible when it opened.  It never achieved the hoped-for role as a nationally-significant component of the inland waterway system that stretches from Minnesota to New Orleans.

The closure of the lock is relatively imminent, slated to take place on or before June 15, 2015.  The decisions about what happens to the facility, and by extension how this part of the city is affected by this momentous occasion, has just begun.


River Sites as Sites of Conscience: the Past Strengthens the Future

At this point in history, the early 21st century, most folks generally understand that our history hasn’t always been a uniform, steady story of progress whereby enlightened and sensitive people make unerring choices as society moves toward an ever-brighter future for everyone. (In case you think I’m being my usual semi-snarky self, let me just say that this was the dominant narrative in K-12 history classes for a very long time.)

We know, of course, that history is fraught with stories of mistakes, violence, well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) efforts that reaped unintended consequences.  Telling those stories in public places, whether through memorials, or through interpretive programs at historic sites, parks, and open spaces, is part of how our rich and complex legacy is conveyed to people today.

Shockoe Bottom is a site in the City of Richmond VA that is deeply associated with slave trading in the city’s past.  Currently, the city and others plan to redevelop the site, further erasing the opportunity to convey this painful part of the city’s past.  A coalition of local and national advocates is rallying for a different future, one that incorporates the site’s past into its present, and retains the site’s capacity to act as a “site of conscience.”

What has this got to do with our work, you may ask?  Rivers were historically the key routes of transportation, commerce, and exchange between communities, regions, and nations.  River sites such as Fort Snelling and the sites of many indigenous settlements, now all but erased in the dominant society’s memory are strong candidates to become “safe places to tell challenging stories” as a recent National Park Service report said.

A richer, more nuanced understanding of our river’s past is necessary for us to engage a broader and deeper set of possibilities for its future.

New leader at Mississippi River National Park

John Anfinson, a historian who has published widely and served the Corps of Engineers as well as the National Park Service in protecting and managing the Upper Mississippi, is the new superintendent at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

As he explains in this recent news story, Anfinson’s main goals as superintendent are to increase the river’s visibility to Twin Cities residents and help them understand why the Mississippi River in this region matters.

The park faces a number of challenges and changes in the immediate future, from the impending closure of Upper St. Anthony Lock to the ongoing vigilance against the threat of invading carp.  But there are strong opportunities as well, not least of which is the National Park Service’s upcoming centennial celebration in 2016.

Last fall, Anfinson gave a talk at the University of Minnesota in which he argued that the river’s future is strongly affected by its past, but that the longer term vision of the river is a text yet waiting to be written.  View the video of the talk, plus the extensive question/answer session here.


Big Changes to Minneapolis Central Riverfront? Learn More

The Upper St. Anthony Falls lock has become one of the most recognizable parts of the river landscape in the Central Minneapolis riverfront.

But it’s closing soon, no later than June 2015.  Now what?  Will the Corps of Engineers stop dredging everywhere above the Ford Lock and Dam?  Will the lock building and its small visitor center stay open? What about the Lower St. Anthony Lock?

Who will have a say in how these changes are managed?

Learn more by hearing a panel of experts lead a discussion this Thursday, January 22, at Mill City Museum, 6:00-7:30.  More details in the press release copied below:

In June 2015, the St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock will close primarily to stop the spread of invasive carp into the Upper River. What will be the impact on the Minneapolis Riverfront? “Minneapolis After the Lock: Unlocking New Opportunities”  a Riverfront Vitality Forum presented by the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP), impanels a group of experts to discuss these questions and hear ideas about how the river can be used in new ways. The Forum will take place on Thursday, January 22nd, from 6-7:30 PM at the Mill City Museum. Admission is free. Reserve a seat at

When barge traffic ends, river management practices such as dredging will change. The closure will also have an environmental and economic impact on the entire river in the city of Minneapolis. What are the opportunities that the lock closure will bring to the river and riverfront in terms of recreation and development? How does this closure fit into the Central Riverfront Master Plan? These questions and others will be addressed. Scheduled panel speakers are:

  • Jacob Frey, Minneapolis City Councilperson for the Third Ward
  • John Anfinson, Superintendent, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, National Parks Service
  • Nanette Bischoff, Project Manager/FERC Coordinator, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Thomas Meyer, Principal, MSR Architecture, Interiors and Urban Design
  • Moderator: Kathleen Boe, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership.

Note: According to Federal law, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will close St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock no later than June 2015 primarily to stop the spread of invasive carp into the Upper River. Such a spread has the potential to inflict destruction on lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota, effectively destroying water recreation throughout the state.

MRP launched the Riverfront Vitality Forums to bring diverse groups together to work on issues critical to creating a vibrant riverfront community.  MRP’s signature work—the Riverfront Vitality Report—is tracking the results of public and private efforts toward creating a healthy, livable riverfront with greenspace and trails accessible to everyone.

# # #

For further information, contact: Kathleen Boe, Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership,, or Merle Minda,

Tonight-Sip of Science-Volcanoes, Anyone?

Our friends at the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics are at it again–another semester of Sip of Science begins tonight.  Read below for more details:

A SIP OF SCIENCE – the 2nd Wednesday of every month
Volcanoes and Our Past
Kent Kirkby, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota
Wednesday January 14th, 2015 5:30p.m.
Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis

A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly. Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

January 14th Event

Volcanic eruptions are among some of the most spectacular events in our shared human experience. All too often though, eruptions are treated as historic oddities – unusual events of limited importance in the greater scheme of things. When typically volcanism does make it into history books, the mention is brief, focusing on the eruption and its immediate death toll. This myopic approach grossly underestimates the long term impacts volcanism has played in human history and how it has shaped our society. Join us for the January Sip of Science as geology professor Kent Kirkby presents the opportunity to acknowledge, perhaps even celebrate, the roles volcanism has played in human history.
The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase

A gift of three plastic dinosaurs at the age of seven sparked a career path for Kent Kirkby — and graduate research undertaken while living in a mountain lion’s cave in the southwest confirmed it. Kirkby, now a teaching professor at the University of Minnesota, worked for more than a decade in the oil fields of Colorado and Alberta, Canada before returning to academia. Since coming to the university twenty years ago, he’s focused on developing more effective teaching methods often interwoven with storytelling. While his courses have touched on topics ranging from natural disasters and dinosaurs to the geology behind landscape paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, all have focused on the intersection of human history and Earth processes. A native Wisconsinite, who has yet to develop a taste for Minnesota hot dishes, Kent has two sons who have fled the nest, and currently lives with his wife (also his best friend), three cats and a decent-sized green aluminum Brontosaur.
A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar. Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Get more information at:

Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Hold the Date! Mississippi River Symposium April 8-10
Come join us at our symposium “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change” taking place in Northrop in early April.

For up-to-date program information on the symposium, please visit