Exploration, Service, Perspectives

Photo of a rocky area with a concrete water drain in the background and a dirt trail off to the back left of the image.

#hike26 & #hike27 of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Coldwater Spring / Mini Owe Sni, Minnehaha Trail and Fort Snelling State Park

I want to acknowledge these hikes and volunteering took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux).

Trash Collected: 1.2 pounds, 0.8 pounds


These past few weeks I’ve finally been able to spend time a lot of time in the area between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling State Park doing service work removing invasive species. As the crews have moved through Coldwater Spring, I discovered where some trails I’d noticed went and additional social trails tucked here and there across the park.

On this day I’d been cooped up in the house most of the morning attending a couple virtual meetings. I needed to get myself out even though I knew I’d be putting up with temperatures and humidity that would be nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While I’d normally bike to the park, I also had to be back for another meeting in the late afternoon so I opted to drive. Parking my car in the late afternoon sun and paying the parking fee, I headed to explore a few of the spur trails I’d discovered during my service work.

Photo of an asphalt paved trail heading into the distance. On the left side of the image is a wooden fence surrounded by green vegetation. The path has a canopy of trees.

The Minnehaha Trail is a paved trail spanning the distance between Minnehaha Falls Park and Fort Snelling State Park. It’s a favorite of bikers in particular, but I’ve hiked it’s length in all seasons. Every time, I’ve passed one spur in particular that had captured my attention as it lead toward the river and seemed to run parallel to the Minnehaha Trail. Today it was on my list for my hour-long visit.

As I followed a small social trail that lead me up and over a small hill the path narrowed tightly. It connected again to the wider, dirt trial that headed south. I checked my GPS to find that, according to my map, I was now on Fort Snelling State Park land. Further along, I came to a portion of trail that included a washed out, unmaintained bridge. The bridge had originally been set on the typical style of state park plinths seen throughout other parks and likely CCC or WPA era stonework. Currently portions have been moved and adjusted to allow for traversing it, though I questioned how solidly it would be under my feet. I was pleasantly surprised it provided solid footing. Mentally I was making a note to do more research about this area of the park.

From this point the trail goes up a set of unmaintained stairs and levels off again about 100 yards above the river. Several people were at the river edge with their dogs sending sticks out into the river for the dogs to retrieve. At some point I will explore another trail that appeared to lead to the dog park which sits along the river. The trail gently rises to the base of another staircase. As soon as I saw it, I realized that it was a stair case I’d considered checking out on one of my many passes on the Minnehaha Trail.

I slowly climbed the stairs in the heat, feeling rewarded for now having visited a new part of this park. Many of the trials in this section are unnamed which keeps visiting the area interesting for sure. The adventure was a good reminder that no matter how much you think you know about a small geographic areas, there can always be more to find.

On my way out I continued to pick up the multitude of dog waste bags that had been discarded along the edges of the trial. I continue to find it interesting that people will back the waste and then proceed to throw it into the woods or leave it on the side of the trail. It defeats the purpose of bagging in the first place. In the end I gathered up nearly a dozen bags and a few pieces of plastic trash. Right before I left I stopped off to clean my boots at the boot brush station, wishing it was closer to the park entrance.

Service and Reflection

The next day I returned to Coldwater Creek to continue my weekly service work. There is always some kind of maintenance needed to keep parks accessible for visitors. Today’s efforts were again focused around the removal of invasive species. It’s an easy way for people wanting to pitch in to have an impact. As our crew leaders offered up options for the morning work, I opted to spend another day focusing on the removal of garlic mustard. The biennial plants go to seed this time of year and the window to get the plants before they scatter their hundreds (ok, thousands) of seeds is rapidly closing.

Our assigned area was the border of the park that I wasn’t aware existed. On the north side of Coldwater Creek and to the south of Minnehaha Falls there is a chunk of land that is owned by the Veteran’s Administration (VA). The VA doesn’t have the resources to manage the land so the volunteer crew spends part of each year on the land in an attempt to keep the unchecked invasive species from moving back into the Coldwater Creek land.

As my fellow crew mate and I headed into our assigned section of woods we found wide swaths of garlic mustard that were on the verge of dropping their seeds. We worked in the heat, commenting about the sound of the seeds popping from their pods as we stuffed the plants into the bags we’d been provided. The work of removing these species along with recent reading I’d been doing about better understanding colonization and its impacts here in the U.S. and globally.

I’ve been reading a lot about the parts of U.S. history that we brush under the rug. The colonization story of the country often provides whitewashing of the fact that the colonists took land from indigenous peoples, pushing them into smaller and smaller chunks of land. It isn’t a pretty part of our history. Along with the push of people, there have also been geographic and ecological impacts. I contemplated the fact that many of the invasive species we have been working so hard to removed from this land were brought to the area by colonists.

This had me considering the idea that humans have a need for the familiar. We move people, objects and even foods across the world to bring what is comfortable with us. Many have done this and continue to do it without thought to the long-last impact it will have. I reflected on my gratitude for the global travel I’ve been fortunate to experience.

I’ve come to realize that while I had experiences and foods that I miss terribly, bringing them home with me will never really capture them in the same way as experiencing them in their places of origin. I realized as I stooped and pulled handfuls of a plant that was likely brought from Europe the incredible changes we humans have created. Shoving the plants into the bag and listening to the seeds sprinkle to the bottom, I considered with sadness what the native Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) who were here on this land before Fort Snelling existed and the settlers came, would think about this white woman trying to remove this invasive. Once the seeds have scattered they are impossible to completely remove.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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