by Susu Jeffrey
Friends of Coldwater

July 1, 2009

Coldwater supporters are angry that funds to return the area to "open green space" were dropped from the federal stimulus package. The Twin Cities office of the National Park Service (NPS) budgeted $3.5-million to remove buildings and to prepare the 27-acre property for replanting as an oak savanna urban wilderness.

Four different reasons were given for rejecting the Coldwater project: We don't know and, there's not enough money even for a relatively cheap priority project were the first answers. Next the answer appeared to be that the project was not deemed "shovel-ready." Water, gas and electric have been dismantled for years, windows are broken and trees are growing out of the roofs. Then we were told more paperwork needed to be completed.

It would be five more years before a financial package could be shuttled through the next funding cycle in Congress according to Steven Johnson, Project Manager for the Coldwater restoration program. Lots of federal money has already gone into the Coldwater area.

Most of the highway funds used to construct the Highway 55 reroute were federal. The roadbed was raised south of 54th Street to avoid cutting off the groundwater flow to Coldwater Spring. Construction of the Highway 55/62 interchange was halted for a year and a half by a court-ordered design change after dye tests showed 30-percent of the Coldwater's source waters traveled underground through the planned intersection. The lowest part of the 55/62 interchange (where you go west to go east, etc.) is sunk 4 to 6.5-feet down into the water table.

The process to return Coldwater to parkland was initiated by former Congressman Martin Sabo in 2003 with a $750,000 appropriation which produced an 11-pound Draft Environmental Impact Statement and years of meetings. From the 1880s to the late 1940s the land was a southward extension of Minnehaha Park, labeled Coldwater Park on maps. Without action now, the historic Coldwater Spring House and limestone reservoir, built in the 1880s, could decay beyond repair.

Drug Use and Erosion
Eleven buildings remain from the Bureau of Mines period (1949-91). Intravenous drug users have repeatedly broken into the abandoned Main Building and turned it into a "shooting gallery" according to Johnson. Black mold in the old Library Building is so toxic a respirator is required before entry. Copper pipes have been stolen from the deserted Library. Coldwater property rehabilitation is a public safety issue.

Dead pigeons and guano litter the Crusher Building where the windows were shot out in 2003. The Bureau of Mines/Twin Cities Research Center studied iron ore processing and mining safety during the Cold War.

For years the abandoned buildings have tempted neighborhood kids for break-in adventures. The buildings are covered with graffiti—even the Minnesota Historical Society plaque has been tagged.

Erosion and invasive vegetation are undercutting the hillside above the spring. Stormwater runoff from a huge warehouse roof has cut a washout gully in the hillside and silted up the pond. The hill is covered with invasive buckthorn, an exotic European understory tree that shades out indigenous plants. Buckthorn root systems do not hold the soil.

Another plant invader, garlic-mustard, is crawling down the Mississippi gorge where Coldwater reservoir empties into Coldwater Creek. It's about 120-feet down the bluff where Coldwater Falls meets the Mississippi. Stabilization costs increase as time passes.

Some people argue that erosion is a bigger problem than the junkies. Since 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has "maintained" the property like a slumlord.

Public Consensus Ignored by Washington
Coldwater supporters worked for years to establish a vision and consensus that the National Park Service labeled "the preferred alternative." The buildings and invasive vegetation would be removed and the land replanted as an oak savanna with indigenous prairie grasses and burr oaks.

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the local government agency responsible for Coldwater watershed from the spring to the Mississippi River, favored the plan. Also on-board are Friends of the Mississippi River, Friends of the Riverfront, Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition, Friends of Coldwater, and the Sierra Club.

American Indian groups universally called for restoration of the land.

Despite support from Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congress members Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, the financial plan that left Minnesota as a priority project and got the go-ahead at the Nebraska Midwest NPS headquarters, got axed in Washington D.C.

There is no opposition to building removal and preparation for re-landscaping. In fact "destruction/construction" was scheduled to begin next winter after the ground is frozen to minimize land damage. Opening the new Coldwater Park was announced for September of 2010.

The old Bureau of Mines campus at Coldwater has been "shovel-ready" since 1995 when FEMA moved out of the Main Building. More money has been spent on security than building removal would cost.

The Hennepin County sheriff's office is responsible for security at Coldwater. Under a management agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service sheriff's deputies patrol the Coldwater campus in trade for bomb squad and canine training space—activities inconsistent with a sacred site.

Coldwater is:
• The last natural spring in Hennepin County, at least 10,000-years-old, still flowing at about 90-thousand gallons per day.
• A traditional sacred site for Dakota, Anishinabe, Ho Chunk, Iowa, Sauk and Fox peoples.
• The Birthplace of Minnesota, where the soldiers lived who built Fort Snelling and a civilian community developed to service the Fort. Dred Scott was stationed at the Fort between 1836-40 and based his case for freedom from slavery in part on his residency in the free (then) Wisconsin Territory.
A shovel-ready public project that can provide winter jobs for construction workers.

Call on Congress to Save Coldwater Now
Please phone our U.S. Congress members to ask that the Coldwater/Bureau of Mines project funds be reinstated.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (who is on the Appropriations Committee) 651-224-9191 or email

• Congressman Keith Ellison: 612-522-1212 or email

• Senator Amy Klobuchar: 612-727-5220 or email

(Note: emails must be sent from Congressional websites.)
<< back









Highway 55


Contact Us


Friends of Coldwater is a Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation