Coldwater Journal is a record of personal observations and reflections from visits to the Coldwater campus.

Please feel free to submit your thoughts and reflections about Coldwater for posting here on the FRIENDS of COLDWATER site via email.
Coldwater Journal is chronologically reversed. The newest postings are first.
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Monday, 12.14.09
Coldwater Spring, near Mississippi River, to become parkland

by Elizabeth Dunbar
Minnesota Public Radio

(St. Paul) A former federal research site along the Mississippi River that contains a 10,000-year-old natural spring will be opened to the public as parkland, the National Park Service announced Monday.

The former Bureau of Mines site is on 27 acres along the Mississippi River between Minnehaha Park and Fort Snelling State Park. The area includes Coldwater Spring, a resource that many American Indians still consider sacred.

The site has 11 vacant buildings, many of which have fallen into disrepair.

As part of a final Environmental Impact Statement, the National Park Service recommends demolishing the buildings to make way for native prairie, oak trees and trails for people to enjoy nature and learn about the site's history, said Alan Robbins-Fenger, a planning and land use specialist with the park service.

"It allows the public full access to the site," he said of the recommendation.

It isn't yet clear how soon the buildings could be taken down and roads removed.

During the planning process, which has taken several years, there were discussions about having the land become part of Minnehaha Park or Fort Snelling State Park. But the city and state weren't interested in taking on the additional expense, so the site will likely continue to be managed by the federal government.

Robbins-Fenger said Congress directed the park service to find a way to keep the area free from development, so the task became trying to figure out what option would cause the least environmental damage to the area.

Several groups, including Friends of Coldwater and the Sierra Club, had endorsed plans to make the site public open space. The plan will preserve Coldwater Spring and finally get rid of buildings that have been attracted drug users and vandals, said Susu Jeffrey, founder of Friends of Coldwater.

"Coldwater is the last major natural spring left in all of Hennepin County, so it belongs to the people," Jeffrey said. "This will be urban wilderness, a place where the land is honored for its own history."

Jeffrey said she hopes the space will become a sort of "green museum" where people can learn about the spring's history, the Mississippi River gorge and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

The spring was used by Indian tribes before the U.S. Army built Fort Snelling nearby. In the 1820s, soldiers used the spring as a resource. In the late 1800s, a spring house and reservoir were built.

The Bureau of Mines buildings were built in the 1940s and '50s to research mining techniques and safety. Research being done at the center was transferred to universities and other government centers in 1996 during a series of budget cuts.

The National Park Service hopes to at least have signs in the park that educate people about the Bureau of Mines site and the work that was once done there. For example, a taconite mining process that's still used today on Minnesota's Iron Range was refined in one of the now-vacant buildings, Robbins-Fenger said.

However, park officials expect most visitors to the site will be interested foremost in Coldwater Spring.

"The spring itself is very unique and has a lot of history connected to it," Robbins-Fenger said, adding that the land will provide a connection between other historic sites like Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling. "This is just another piece that fills in kind of a gap in the middle that will remain public land.".
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Friday, 12.04.09
The Ducks are Back

(Coldwater) About 30 mallards graced Coldwater pond today. A couple of the males were territorial (or sexual). We’ve seen more than 200 at a time with no squabbles—but it’s early in the cold season.

Someone actually held a campfire beside the Spirit Tree. To me that would be like having a fire for a burn victim—different practices, I guess.

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Friday, 11.27.09

(Coldwater) It’s clear! The water is clear! The way it used to be before that irrational man dumped carp into Coldwater’s reservoir. It is illegal to move fish or vegetation from one body of water to another because it throws the system out of balance. Think kudzu.

arp feed by disturbing the bottom. These invasive exotics have raked up sediment along the reservoir floor for so long we forgot we used to be able to see to the bottom.

“You drink that?” people would ask.

And now we can see the bottom. The answer to the question of the commercial fisherman’s technique is: gill net. Gill nets are not legal for just anybody. These are vertical nets that entangle fish.

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Friday, 10.02.09
Buckthorn-Free Coldwater Reservoir

(Coldwater) You might have seen Tamberlain and Allison in their spiffy National Park Service uniforms clearing the (expletive deleted) buckthorn from around Coldwater reservoir in the past month. The two women cut and painted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of this destructive small tree-pest. Two huge piles of cut brush were dragged behind and north of the Crusher (pigeon) Building to be removed soon.

The work was so overwhelming that an office crew came out last Tuesday to meet the buckthorn-free deadline. The area looks as if it can breathe again. The willow tree is finally free of surrounding weed-trees. In fact—WARNING—the willow harbors a yellow jacket nest and several tree-climbers and bystanders have been stung recently.

When the buckthorn removal began it was a record warm September. The NPS long-sleeved shirts protected against the piercing thorns but were hot. Today the project ended in a cold drizzle with the women in mud-caked boots and waterproof hat-jacket-pants crawling up and down the steep hillside behind the spring.

And miracle of miracles, just after the rye grass and prairie seed mixture was spread on the newly cleared hill—the rains came. Rye grass is a quick fix to hold the soil while indigenous seeds take root. The rye grass, which will not reseed, is already two or three inches high. Several sheets of white matting adorn the hill like giant band aids. The mats are biodegradable erosion control measures and will disappear into the landscape.

Buckthorn is an invasive, exotic European understory tree with a plentitude of little black berries used medicinally to alleviate constipation. Birds eat the berries and squirt out viable seeds. It’s a beautiful little tree with shiny dark green leaves and it’s a killer.

Buckthorn kills native plants by its awful density, by shading out native prairie plants. Buckthorn roots do not hold the soil and serious erosion has occurred since 1996 when maintenance basically stopped except for cosmetic grass cutting. This is the first time in 13 years that positive work has occurred at Coldwater.

Friends of Coldwater heartily thank Tamberlain and Allison especially, but also the office gang for their sweat equity in beginning to return the Coldwater Spring area to prairie oak savanna.

Another bit of good news is that NPS Superintendent Paul Labovitz went to Washington this week to lobby the powers-that-be for stimulus money to get rid of the buildings on the Coldwater campus. The 11 buildings with their asbestos and black mold, broken windows and graffiti are scheduled for removal/recycling about January after the ground freezes (to reduce land damage).

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Representatives Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum are on-board the Coldwater clean-up, in addition to every single environmental and American Indian group involved in the Coldwater process. This is a win-win-win issue that we have been pursuing since 1996. Finally it’s happening—yeah!

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August 2009
Buckthorn Removal at Coldwater
from Steve Johnson, National Park Service

(Coldwater) Beginning the week of August 31, 2009, two National Park Service employees will be working at the Coldwater property. Seasonal biological technicians will be removing invasive buckthorn from the immediate vicinity of Coldwater Spring and pond. Other staff may be helping from time to time.

In addition to cutting the plants and stacking them away from the pond, they will be treating the cut stumps with a small amount of herbicide to ensure the stumps don’t regrow. They will be using Aquapro, an herbicide designed for use on and near water. It is formulated in a way that will not harm aquatic ecosystems. The herbicide will only be used on the stumps and not on or in the water. We’re using this more sensitive product because we want to be as careful as possible to ensure we don’t affect the pond.

The technicians will be removing buckthorn on the slope immediately west of the pond and spring, but will use care not to denude the slope, which would facilitate erosion. As they remove buckthorn between the pond and Building 11, and between Buildings 4 and 11, care will be taken to retain sufficient canopy to break up rainfall in those areas where tree growth is so dense there is no vegetation at ground level. With the dense growth thinned, we’ll plant grass to reduce the risk of erosion. Once grass is established, we expect to remove the rest of the buckthorn, probably next summer. There is some woody vegetation in that area that isn’t buckthorn, and it will not be disturbed.

Time and weather permitting, our crew may also remove buckthorn along the creek downslope of the road, east of the pond.

The crew should be onsite throughout September (except during wet weather). We may be able to field a crew through much of October, as well.

Feel free to pass this information on to your communications network. As usual, feel free to call if you want to discuss this.

Steven P. Johnson
Chief of Resource Management
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
National Park Service
651-290-3030 x223 or
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July 2009
Go With the Flow

(Coldwater) The strongest, coldest, cleanest, fastest, deepest flow of Coldwater spring water comes out of the northwest corner of the Spring House.

A Dakota man called Jason Fire Wolf educated me about the importance of allowing the spring flow to enter the northwest corner inside the Spring House. During the Republican National Convention occupation at Coldwater, water was collected inside the Spring House at that place.

Jason told me with great emphasis that "The Spring House has to remain there" because that's where the water comes out and we don't want to mess with that flow.

When the flow is blocked, the water outflows underneath and at the sides, picking up concrete and soil contaminants, also warming slightly.

I spoke with Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community (MMDC) Chairman Curtis LeClair about this and it made sense to him. I also spoke with Coldwater supporter John Gebhardt who works with the MMDC security detail and he got the point.

Some person(s) is/are apparently repeatedly plugging the pipe under the mistaken idea that the place we used to collect water during the encampment is the proper place to get water. Since the pipe cleared the Spring House became the obvious best water place. The land around the Spring dries-up when the Spring can out-flow at its traditional spot (without being forced up, down or sideways). Once you "see" it, it makes so much sense.

When I spoke with Jim Anderson, Cultural Chair of the MMDC who was at the Coldwater occupation during the Republican National Convention, he agreed. "Go with the flow," he said and gave permission to say MMDC endorses water collection inside the Spring House.

The National Park Service/Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (NPS/MNRRA) and Friends of Coldwater agree. In fact, NPS cleared the pipe of a log pipe-stopper. NPS's John Anfinson talked about measuring the flow as it comes out of the Spring House pipe, as well as continuing to measure from the big pipe under the road.

In the past couple of weeks people have place a log "step" inside the Spring House for easy access. It was fixed up so you wouldn't even get your shoes wet—then it was plugged again.

Imagine a 3 or 4-step limestone stair into the Spring House. Can you believe Sister Jane has never touched the water where it comes out of the bedrock!

Please help get the word out so we can make the cleanest water accessible to more supporters.

—Susu, for Friends of Coldwater.
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Friday, 05.15.09
Life & Death at Coldwater

(Coldwater) Seven fuzzy duckings zipped around Coldwater pond so fast it was hard to count them.

photo by S Martinson
They are so fast they look like they are running on water.

They are so darling your lips smile while your eyes tear as the landscape guys drag away the last charred remains of the Spirit Tree.

So goes the life and death cycle at Coldwater.

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Friday, 04.17.09
Two Women Burn Spirit Tree

Danny O'Donoghue, 5, at the Spirit Tree.
Bigger Image - click here
(Coldwater) On Wednesday afternoon, April 15, two women set the Spirit Tree afire by burning sage in the dry grotto of the hollow maple. The women were in a green car and reportedly burned sage around the automobile engine.

The Saint Paul Fire Department responded at about 3 PM and spent over three hours attempting to put the fire out. The only water available was the Coldwater pond. Firefighters cut away much of the tree that was still burning on Thursday.

Friends of Coldwater suggest that five-to-ten feet of the maple be left when it is taken down before a "storm blows it into the resevoir." A piece of the tree would at least preserve the memory of the time of the Spirit Tree.

The Main Building at Coldwater has been discovered by intravenous drug users. It was described as a "shooting gallery" with syringes and spoons with burn stains. The inside walls are said to be "covered with graffiti."

Old Bureau of Mines buildings have been abandoned since about 1995. The buildings are a magnet for gang activity. More taxpayer funds have been invested in "security" than the price of removing/recycling all eleven buildings on the 27-acre property.

It is past time for clearing the Coldwater campus. The laborious federal process begun in 2003 to turn the property into "open green space" needs to be fast-tracked. Coldwater is a poster site for shovel-ready projects.

Sources for this report were Bob Hansen of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (612-713-5212) and Steve Johnson of the National Park Service (651-290-3030, ext. 223). Hansen administers the maintenance at Coldwater, and Johnson heads "the process." Consider phoning these officials with your concerns before we have a drug death at this sacred site.

In both Native American and European pre-Christian traditions water is the domain of women. Weather specialists have been talking "drought" lately. Visit Coldwater. Water the Spirit Tree..

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Tuesday, 3.10.09

(Coldwater) An unleashed dog chased a deer out onto Highway 55 adjacent to the Coldwater property on March 10, about 6:45 PM. The deer was hit, unable to get up, but alive.

It was a March blizzard full moon evening, temperature in the low 30s. While waiting for the regular full moon walk to begin two Friends of Coldwater witnessed the deer death fiasco.

A truck stopped near the downed deer. The driver, apparently attempting to put the deer out of its misery, ran over the deer. The deer was still moving its head. The truck then ran over the deer again. And again the deer was still alive.

The police responded and shot the deer, once, twice, three times before killing the maimed animal.

Dog-walkers are using the Coldwater property to avoid paying dog park fees or perhaps even licensing their animals. There is no signage requiring dog owners to leash their pets or clean up after them.

Coldwater is a sacred orphan. We need signs about appropriate respect. .

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Saturday, 1.10.09
Best Moon View Walk

(Coldwater) Best ever moon view is the opinion of Coldwater walkers Saturday night with January's full moon. The moon is at perigee in January, nearest to the center of Earth appearing very high and large in our sky.

Towering cirrus clouds softened the moonrise, a wet moon. The moon's gauze increased until a moon halo, separated from the misty moon as a double halo. It was mackerel clouds blowing in, a warm front, indicating incoming humidity, rain or snow. Voilá the larger halo metamorphosed into a circle rainbow. Five miles aloft ice crystals bend the light.

Danny, the 4-year-old among us, was pretty impressed but then a triple halo manifested as a circle of white light! Amazing that we can see this phenomenon on the edge of a great metropolitan area.

And then we went into Bridgeman's to see our favorite server and get warm in the great Minnesota snack tradition. When we came out the sky was perfectly clear with a hard bright moon casting shadows. Looking through 4-year-old eyes can make things clearer.


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