Monday, December 12, 2016

Become a Minnesota Master Naturalist!

Are you ready to take your volunteering skills to the next level?

Become a master naturalist! Ranger Karen Katz from Mississippi National River and Recreation Area will be the lead instructor in this Minnesota Master Naturalist program at Fort Snelling State Park.

Offered by University of Minnesota Extension, the course will be held weekly between mid-March and –April, including two field trips, over a six-week period. The focus of the class will be “Big Woods, Big Rivers” – where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers will serve as a classroom for this outdoor, experiential learning opportunity.

As an individual, this course will give you a deeper understanding of how you can play an active role in facilitating and improving the connection between people and nature. As a volunteer, it will equip you as a leader on formal education programs like Take Me to the River and Big River Journey, which provide hands-on learning experiences for young people in Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Get to know the geology, plant and animal communities, hydrology, and history of this area from experts who know it best. Deepen your relationship with the natural world, and learn how you can help others build and strengthen their connections with the local treasures that exist right in our backyard.

This class will meet on Wednesdays from 9 am to 2:30 pm, between March 15 and April 19 at the Fort Snelling State Park visitor center. The course cost is $275, however scholarships are available. Click here to learn more.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How Does #MissNPS #OptOutside?

Last year on Black Friday our friends at REI did something different - they shut the co-op’s doors and spent the day outside. This year they’re closing again and we’ve decided to opt outside with them by organizing a day of fun and exploring in our national park!

Join rangers from Mississippi National River and Recreation Area this Black Friday for a day of fun, family-friendly treasure hunting at Coldwater Spring! The day's activities will combine hiking, orienteering, and learning about the important connections between people and wildlife of the Mississippi River. Whichever path you choose, choose to opt outside with friends and family this year!

Even if we’re not working that day, don’t expect to see any of us at the mall on Black Friday. Here’s how just a few staff members are Opting Outside this year…

“Our family will spend the day exploring our local parks around Lake Johanna.  We'll play tag on the playground, search for the three neighborhood turkeys, and play epic rounds of stomp rocket.  We love fall and Opt Outside a great reminder to take advantage of our beloved parks and trails.” - Brian, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area   

“I will be home in New Hampshire, visiting my family and introducing some college friends to the beautiful, rural place where I grew up. We will hike in the hills behind my house and hopefully make our way up to a nearby beaver pond-- a favorite spot from my childhood!” - Maya, Mississippi Park Connection

“My family plan is to #OptOutside by visiting a local park to search for discoveries along a forested trail, support my three-year old son's newfound love for binoculars by watching for migrating birds, and probably visit a playground or two.” - Allie, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

“I’m really excited to go to Colorado with my family this Thanksgiving. We have plans for a day hike in Boulder on Black Friday, but after eating everything I see the previous day, I might just put my hammock up and take a nap!” - Mary, Mississippi Park Connection

“My kids and I will go for a walk along the Mississippi River near our house. We like to search for animal footprints in the wet sand on the edge of the river. And, no trip to the river is complete without throwing some sticks and rocks into the river.” - Dan, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

“I’m going to start a new tradition of post-turkey hiking with my loved ones. I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in Denver this year, and plan to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park the next day to go hiking.” - Alora, Mississippi Park Connection

We hope you'll choose to #OptOutside too this Black Friday, and give thanks for life's most precious gift of all - nature. See you out there!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dan The Tree Man

Dan Wattenhofer, GreenCorps Member and Urban Forestry Specialist, Mississippi Park Connection

Hi there!
My name is Dan Wattenhofer and I am the new urban forestry specialist and Greencorps member at Mississippi Park Connection, and I’m pleased to be here!  For the next year, I’ll be working with the vast ash tree population within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. 

I grew up Champlin, Minnesota, right near the northern boundary of the Mississippi River and Recreation Area. My friends and I spend a lot of time canoeing and biking around the Coon Rapids Dam area and I think that where my connection to the river first started. I attended St. John’s University and graduated in 2014 with a degree in Political Science.  After graduating, I went to work as an arborist and climber at Rainbow Tree Companies, a tree care company that works throughout twin city metro area.  During my time as an arborist, I really developed a passion for trees and all the benefits that they can provide. Some of my favorite areas to work in back then were along the river gorge area where the fall colors are even more brilliant from 60 feet up in a tree.

In my free time I volunteer at the local fire department, mill logs, climb, canoe, and wander around breweries asking what stouts are on tap.

Here at the Park Connection, my yearlong project will be assessing the state of the threatened ash tree population throughout the river corridor and working with our many partners to identify successful emerald ash borer management plans, develop criteria and prioritize stands for management, and determine best adaptation strategies for the potential loss of ash stands.   Additionally, a good deal of my work will include identifying the impacts that the diminishing ash population will have on things such as the loss of recreational value at places of interest, loss of trees as a means of carbon storage, effects on soil erosion, and potential implications for wildlife.

I am excited to be a member of the team and get my project up and running! See you out there!

Minnesota GreenCorps is an AmeriCorps program, hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Celebrating the NPS Centennial Through Art

Alora K. Jones, Marketing & Communications Associate, Mississippi Park Connection

We at the connection have always held a deep appreciation for artists and the ways in which their work brings our national parks to life. Art has always been a part of the National Park Service story, from Ansel Adams to the Project Art for Nature (PAN) collaborative, artists have always played a crucial role in telling the story of America’s Best Idea.

Over the course of this summer, we have been so incredibly fortunate to see so many local artists working to capture the grandeur of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area - and we encourage all of you to get out and experience your park from an artist’s perspective!
America’s River
An exhibition of paintings by Pennsylvania artist Thomas Paquette, America’s River is a collection of stunning oil and gouache paintings that celebrate one of nation’s greatest treasures: the Mississippi River.
Photo credit: Groveland Gallery
Thomas Paquette is a longtime visitor and lover of national parks throughout the country, and created these paintings to celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service and the national park that runs through our Twin Cities. Check out this exhibit at the Groveland Gallery through August 13.

Project Art for Nature
A collaborative of about 25 local artists and illustrators, PAN chooses individual natural areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin to focus on capturing. Participating artists visit the sites regularly over a three-year cycle, resulting in creative responses to seasonal and cumulative changes in the landscape.
Photo credit: Project Art for Nature (PAN)
In “Tributaries of Earth and Water: An Exhibition Celebrating Our National Parks,” PAN features about 50 pieces celebrating our waterways, forests and prairies. See this exhibit at the AZ Gallery through September 18 – a portion of sales will benefit Mississippi Park Connection!

Seeing Nature
A joint effort between Mississippi Park Connection and Mia, Seeing Nature is part exhibition and part guerilla art! To celebrate the new exhibit at Mia “Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection,” 19 museum-style frames have been placed throughout the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
Photo credit: @rachel_six12
Find all 19 frames using this map, and share your masterpieces on Instagram with us using #parkconnection and #seeingnature. Then head down to Mia to see the exhibition – now through September 18!

Third Thursday
As part of the Seeing Nature project – Mia has invited us to help host their Third Thursday event in August.
Photo credit: Mia
Come down to the Minneapolis Institute of Art on August 18 where you can see the Seeing Nature exhibit for free, try your hand at painting en plein air, strike a post in the photobooth, and enjoy live music from Ben Lubeck of Farewell Milwaukee!

River City Revue
Photo credit: Jeremy Messersmith

A series of on-river social events each summer, River City Revue aims to connect people to the Mississippi River through live music, storytelling, history, and art.
While visual artists seem to get most of the recognition for telling the story of national parks, we’re very excited to be working with local musician Jeremy Messersmith and spoken-word artists from Word Sprout to put on this program.
Each revue brings to life a different theme, presenting diverse perspectives on our Great River. Join us on September 8 and discover your river!

No matter what your favorite medium is, there’s an opportunity out there for you to ring in the National Park Service Centennial with local artists who love this park as much as you do! Celebrate the natural magnificence of the national park in our backyard, and the wonderful artists who work to capture this beauty for the enjoyment of everyone.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

We've Got A New Intern!

Maya Swope, Volunteer Events & Engagement Intern, Mississippi Park Connection

Hello, everyone! My name is Maya Swope, and I am the new Volunteer Events and Engagement Intern at Mississippi Park Connection. I’m so incredibly excited to be joining this wonderful team at our national park!

I recently finished my sophomore year at Macalester College in Saint Paul, where I am majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography. Originally from New Hampshire, I grew up hiking and canoeing in the mountains and lakes that surrounded my rural home. Now, as a Saint Paul resident, I treasure the urban park that runs through our cities for its beauty and accessibility. I never knew I could live in a city and still be able to visit such beautiful green spaces!

Here at Mississippi Park Connection, our summer volunteer season is already in full swing-- and I’ve had so much fun helping to lead restoration projects throughout the park. During my first two months with the organization, I have learned so much about native and invasive plants, visited some of the most interesting and beautiful sites in the area, and worked with many a group of awesome volunteers.  One of my favorite things to do in our park is to visit Coldwater Spring-- the prairie is blooming beautifully this time of year! I am excited to continue in this position until December, and hope to see you out in the park!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

MISS Throwback: Harriet Island

Katharine Baldwin, Volunteer, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

MISS Throwback is a collaborative project in honor of the NPS Centennial. We asked volunteers to write about the last 100 years of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. This project was coordinated by Ranger Kathy and Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Quinn.

Harriet Island In the late 1800s, Harriet Island was envisioned as the center of the green, interconnected city of St. Paul. The land had been given to the citizens of St. Paul in 1899 by the city’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Justus Ohage, who believed that "cleanliness and healthy outdoor exercise" were "absolutely necessary to the maintenance of good public health". With this dedication, the land was developed into a recreational area, complete with a playground, band pavilion, zoo, and public baths. The public baths alone drew over 15,000 people per year in the 1910s, and the city hosted celebrations every Fourth of July. During these events, the city would give each child “a small basket containing sandwiches, doughnuts, an orange, candy, a package of cracker-jacks, a paper napkin, and a paper drinking cup”, creating the vision of an inclusive, interconnected city. 

Displaying 1904 Harriet Island on Fourth of July St. Paul MR2.9 SP4.1H p3

Harriet Island on Fourth of July, St. Paul (1904)
Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Despite the promise and popularity of the waterfront, sewage in the river was worsening as the population grew. The city’s first sewers had been installed between 1890 and 1900 to improve public health, but they fed directly into the Mississippi river, detracting from the public health of those near the river. At this point, steamboats were used to transport supplies up and down the Mississippi River, and economic prospects led to the building of the St. Anthony lock and dam in Minneapolis 1917. Despite the good intentions, water quality worsened as human waste collected in thick rafts due to controlled water flow, particularly in the spring, when the waste was usually flushed out. Furthermore, the Minneapolis flour mills began dumping flour dust into the river, creating “dough balls” that added to the stench and pollution. “By the early 1920s, three million cubic yards of sewage and scum fouled the river” and, after periods of major flooding, people living in the river bottoms were given typhoid shots before being allowed to return to their homes.

The number of people choosing to spend time along the river dropped and in the 1920s the park fell into disuse. The city put effort into improving the island at the end of the decade; a road was built around the island and some trees and shrubs were planted, but the onset of the depression prevented further development. By 1935, the park was in such disarray that Dr. Ohage threatened to take it back. In 1938 St. Paul built its first wastewater treatment plant downstream of Harriet Island, which removed the stinking mats of floating sewage from the river and within four months, fish returned to the river. Water quality steadily improved until the 1950s, when the growing population exceeded the treatment plant’s limits and a second wastewater treatment plant was built in 1966. Further improvements were made as federal grant money from the 1972 Clean Water Act funded advances in infrastructure. 

The topography of the Harriet Island was altered throughout the years surrounding 1950 with the filling of the channel between Harriet Island and the southern bank. Connecting the island to the shore removed the need for maintenance on the bridge and prevented sewage from stagnating in the channel. The time period also corresponds to the dredging of the river; the Mississippi had been dredged to 9 feet from St. Paul to New Orleans by the 1920s, and Small Boat Harbor, on the south side of Harriet Island was completed in 1949. All this sediment needed a depository, and the channel between Harriet Island and the shore was a convenient location.
Filling in the channel did not increase the popularity of the park. Steamboat captain William D. Bowell describes the area in 1969: “Harriet Island was an uninviting place… Only one poorly maintained road led onto the island. It dipped under the Wabasha Street Bridge, ran past a wooden walkway to Raspberry Island (then called Navy Island) and a graveyard of abandoned boats, and ended in a parking lot that was a rutted expanse of gravel”. Nonetheless, the Captain began giving steamboat tours that ran from the island in 1970, which brought more people to the area. These tours continue today.
In addition to Captain Bowell, politicians’ interest developed in restoring the “urban ecology” and providing natural oases within the city. The hope was that the river’s proximity to the cities would make it a popular destination, and therefore feed Minnesota’s tourism industry, at that point the state’s second largest industry, as opposed to the dying river transport industry. Several steps were made towards reviving the area. In 1976, Governor Wendell Anderson signed a “Critical Area” designation for the riverfront in the Twin Cities that would develop or modify land-use plans to block undesirable commercial and industrial development. Further interest developed when the possibility of federal government funding for a National Park surfaced in the 1980s. Minnesota’s representative Bruce Vento declared, “For too long the federal government has neglected to integrate the recreational uses of the Mississippi with necessary commercial uses. We want to take advantage of all the opportunities the river has to offer”. Yet economic forces remained at play, forcing a balance of the ecological and economic healths of the Upper Mississippi; the Upper Mississippi River Management Act of 1986 states, “To ensure the coordinated development and enhancement of the Upper Mississippi River system, it is hereby declared to be the intent of Congress to recognize that system as a nationally significant ecosystem and a nationally significant commercial navigation system”. The land around the river would be turned into parkland, but the river itself would remain a waterway controlled by dams.
The government approved funding for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 1988. The park planned to build an interpretive center and boat launch on Harriet Island, and the Army Corps of Engineers began a project to protect the floodplain area by building a dike from Harriet Island to the Lafayette Bridge. Once all of the planned recreational sites were completed, the river was expected to draw 4.1 million visitors each year, who would invest $29 million in metro area businesses. The interpretive center on Harriet Island was never built, but today the National Park draws just over 110,000 visitors each year and the affiliated local and regional parks draw 7.9 million visitors per year.
The attention that the National Park brought to the river raised awareness about pollution, and by 1998, the river was the cleanest it had been in 50 years. Even so, barges and agriculture continued to add pollutants to the water, and a proposed metal shredding plant just downstream of downtown St. Paul caused residents concern. Citizens proclaimed: “Pollution from industry, city streets and farms still threatens the drinking water supplies of 18 million people… While once there were 150 native fish species, today there are only 30”. Their efforts encouraged sustainable development of the industries along the river, although they did not prevent the building of the metal shredder.
The residents of St. Paul also led to the major renovation of Harriet Island in 2000. With the goal to reestablish the Harriet Island as the city’s gathering place, a “River Walk paved with stepping stones funded by local families, a restored 1941 pavilion designed by Minnesota's first African-American architect, Clarence Wigington, and a terraced plaza leading directly down to the river” were built on the island. In 2002, the steel framed performing arts pavilion was finished with inspiration from the open lattice steel frame bridges that once spanned the river. Today the island is used year round as a boat landing and gathering place, but it hasn’t yet returned to the community center is was at the beginning of the 20th century. References Bowell, Wm. D. 1921. Ol’ Man River. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press. “Corps Facts: St. Paul Small Boat Harbor.” 2012. US Army Corp of Engineers - St. Paul District. Public Affairs FS 30. Retrieved from “‘Critical Area’ designation for 80 miles of Mississippi riverfront in the Twin Cities.” October 19, 1976. St. Paul Pioneer Press: 14. Ecological Status and Trends of the Upper Mississippi River System 1998: A Report of the UMRR Long Term Resource Monitoring Program Element. 1998. USGS. Retrieved from Hammel, Bette. 2001. "A renaissance on the river in Saint Paul." Architectural Record 189(9): 65-66. Accessed December 6, 2015. Retrieved from Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, EBSCOhost. Hanmer, Lee F. 1912. “Progress of the Sane Fourth.” The Journal of Education. Trustees of Boston University 75(19): 515-516. “Harriet Island.” (n.d.). Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. National Park Service. US Department of the Interior. Retrieved from Martin, Frank Edgerton. April, 2001. “Saint Paul’s New Riverfront.” Urban Land: 56-61. Mill City Museum. 704 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401. April 2, 2016. “Mississippi Feature: Pollution.” 2001. Center for Global Environmental Education. Hamline University. Retrieved from Minneapolis-Saint Paul Sanitary District. 1958. Pollution and Recovery Characteristics of the Mississippi River for the Period 1926-1955. Sanitary Engineering Report 110 S. “Mississippi Recreation.” August 14, 1986. Minneapolis Star Tribune: B4. Nelson, Paul. 2016. “Harriet Island.” Saint Paul Historical. Retrieved from Schmidt, Andrew J. 2002. “Pleasure and Recreation for the People: Planning St. Paul’s Como Park.” In Minnesota History. Minnesota Historical Society Press 58(1): 40-58. State of the Park Report for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area: Visitor Experience. 2016. National Park Service. US Department of the Interior. Retrieved from Thomma, Steven. September 16, 1987. “Mississippi Protection Bill Approved.” St. Paul Pioneer Press: 9A. “100+ Years of Water Quality Improvements in the Twin Cities: A chronology of significant events affecting water quality in the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metropolitan area 1900-2007” [Pamphlet]. 2007. Metropolitan Council Environmental Services. Retrieved from

Friday, May 13, 2016

BioBlitz at Coldwater Spring

By Nancy Duncan
Natural Resource Program Manager, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

We usually hear the word "biodiversity" in regard to rainforests with their vast number of species. Yet the diversity of life in our own backyards is phenomenal. We take for granted clean water, fertile soil, and air to breathe, yet these are all the result of working ecosystems filled with species that perform these tasks.

From fall 2011 to fall 2012, the National Park Service demolished a dozen abandoned Bureau of Mines buildings at Coldwater Spring. Since then the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection and hundreds of volunteers have been working to create a natural park. This year's BioBlitz will inform us about changes in numbers and species of fish, fungi, insects, birds, and plants living within the 29 acres of Coldwater and surrounding parkland and riverfront. The baseline for this information came from our first BioBlitz on the property, which was held in spring 2013, shortly after demolition was completed.

BioBlitz is an intensive 24-hour sweeping scientific survey of biodiversity in which the public helps scientists find all the plants and animals at a specific location. Part contest, part festival, part educational event and part scientific endeavor, BioBlitz brings together participants from across the state in a race against time. 
Volunteers assist BioBlitz scientists using sonar detectors, bug lights, fish traps and live traps to count and chronicle the area's flora and fauna. All ages and skill levels can take part to collect plants and insects and live-trap animals, which are identified before being released back into the wild. Come be part of a group of dedicated scientists and volunteers roaming the park, equipped with all kinds of gear, from binoculars and bird nets to small mammal traps and mushroom baskets.
The National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection, and the Bell Museum of Natural History are all working together to organize this year’s BioBlitz on July 15 & 16 at Coldwater Spring.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

MISS Throwback: The Lake of No Return

Sandy Fuller, Education Volunteer, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

MISS Throwback is a collaborative project in honor of the NPS Centennial. We asked volunteers to write about the last 100 years of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. This project was coordinated by Ranger Kathy and Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Quinn.

What good is a marsh?   In the late 1800’s, health workers were just beginning to understand that marshes did not make people sick.  The role of marshes in creating healthy ecosystems was unknown, and the idea that “worthless” land could be made productive through dumping, draining and filling was very much in vogue. Little did they understand that the wetlands, prairie wetlands and floodplain lakes, were part of a natural safety valve for the annually overflowing Mississippi River.

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society

Lamprey Lake, located where the downtown St. Paul airport is now located was often choked with tall rushes and other aquatic plants. The overflowing river provided a vital renewal of the marsh and lake while the marshes and lakes provide filtration of water making its way to the river.

In 1916, consistent with current ideas, Lamprey Lake met its final demise.  The lake was drained.  Fill was added and a hard packed surface was created to accommodate those new contraptions that flew through the air.  It would be another 10 years before it became official, but Holman Field was built over the previously lush and fertile marsh and its life-giving lake.

Arnott, Sigrid.  “Twin Cities Sanitation History,”  (The Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, 1999.)

Empson, Donald.  The Street Where You Live:  A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul.  (Minneapolis, MN:  University of Minnesota Press, 2006.)
Wilcoxen, William.  “The Mississippi River:  Competing Uses,” Changing Currents.  (Minnesota Public Radio, May 6, 2002.)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Top 5 Reasons Why YOU Should Come to the Volunteer Recruitment Fair!

Pashia Yang, Centennial Volunteer Intern, Mississippi Park Connection

Hello, everyone! 

My name is Pashia Yang. I am a currently enrolled student at St. Catherine University and starting in February, I became an intern with Mississippi Park Connection. I am a Centennial Volunteer Organizer since the national parks are at their centennial year. It’s been a pleasure knowing that national parks have been around since 1916! Volunteers are a significant contribution to keeping and maintaining specific national parks. We love our volunteers!

My role as an intern is to work with my site supervisor, Mary Hammes in recruiting and sustaining all of our wonderful volunteers. We do events such as Seed Bombs, prairie talks, habitat restoration projects, and so much more! On March 24th, there will be a Volunteer Recruitment Fair at the National Park Service Headquarters from 10am – 2pm. I shall list beneficial components to becoming an awesome volunteer with Mississippi Park Connection.


Networking. According to many, networking is the best solution to find shared interests. A network is a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups. A network can help in the long run when looking for a job or even other opportunities!

Experience. When becoming a volunteer, there are endless experiences to encounter. For example, making and learning about Seed Bombs can give you the experience of knowing more about habitat restoration and prairies.

Education. Being a volunteer also means that you are learning and educating those that are learning it for the first time. Helping others understand the given situations, and problems can help more individuals come together and support these issues.

Developing Skills. You can develop remarkable skills by being a volunteer. Public speaking skills, social skills, teamwork skills, and many others are incorporated when volunteering. This development can help you in the future and also, strengthen some of your weaknesses.

Community Service. Not only are you bringing service to yourself, but you are also bringing service to your community. Restoring habitat can help many wild organisms regain their natural resources. By picking up trash by the Mississippi River or planting seeds, this is beneficial to the community and you. You should feel awesome for being a part of an awesome community!

Thanks for reading about being an awesome volunteer. You may see me around with Mary during future volunteer events!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Black History on the Mississippi River: A Pilgrimage to Freedom

Alora K. Jones, Marketing & Communications Associate, Mississippi Park Connection

In honor of Black History Month the National Park Service, in partnership with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, invites us all to reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by Black Americans. Through its “Hallowed Grounds” theme for Black History Month, NPS is working to raise awareness of Black history in the U.S. and especially those stories that pertain to our national parks and monuments.

River City Revue
Photo credit: Tom Reiter
Here at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, we explored some of the stories and symbolism of rivers for Black Americans last summer at River City Revue. But it is a conversation worth continuing, especially during Black History Month in one of our nation’s most pivotal years...

Locally most of us are familiar with the story of Dred and Harriet Scott, and the famous Dred Scott Decision which ruled that Black people were not considered U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue for freedom from enslavement. But beyond the walls of Historic Fort Snelling, there are few well-known stories that depict the Black experience in Minnesota and more specifically, on the Mississippi River.

Rev. Robert Hickman
Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society
Cue Robert Hickman, born a slave in 1831 on a Boone County plantation just off the Missouri River who worked as a log splitter. In the state of Missouri, slavery was very different from that of the Deep South and Hickman, among other slaves, was taught to read and write. He studied the Bible, became a slave preacher and was revered as a spiritual leader in his community. It was Robert Hickman’s 32nd birthday, January 1, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, however, this executive order did not apply to enslaved people in Missouri and other border states.

So Hickman devised a plan to escape the plantation, and brought with him 75 other enslaved men, women and children. The details of this daring escape remain murky; one account states that the runaways were aided by Union forces and smuggled aboard the War Eagle steamer to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the other more widely known account states that the slaves boarded a makeshift raft, traveling the Missouri River by night and hiding along the banks of the river by day. In any case, Robert Hickman and his 75 ‘pilgrims’ as they called themselves, reached the confluence at the Mississippi River where they were then towed by the Northerner steamboat to Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Photo credit: Star Tribune
Once resettled into this new land, Hickman and his pilgrims went on to establish Pilgrim Baptist Church, one of Minnesota’s first black churches which still stands today and recently celebrated 150 years.

Photo credit: Twin Cities Daily Planet
Hickman’s story is just one example of the many hidden relationships between black Americans and the great outdoors. It is our hope that through uncovering and sharing these stories we can begin to dismantle the false narrative that black people lack a connection with nature, and begin to heal as a nation.