Monday, January 26, 2015

Marschner's Map: How a 100 year old document influences change in our park today

"In late January 1966, a man was found dead on Washington Mall in a mid-season blizzard. He had no family, left no will, and despite being 83, was on his way to work when he died. This man was Francis J. Marschner, one of Minnesota’s greatest known map makers. Never heard of him? Well, don’t feel too bad. F.J. Marschner had never even been to Minnesota."
Lesley Kadish with the Minnesota Historical Society, wrote about the creation of a famous map that described the plant life found throughout the state at the time of settlement.
Original land survey notes.
"…[Minnesota Historical Society’s] Government Records Specialist blogged about the original land survey notes we have in our collection. These are the notes that the original surveyors wrote as they trudged across Minnesota 150 years ago. The information in these notes is priceless; it paints a picture of what the land looked like on the fringes of European settlement, describing prairies, pine forests, and great bogs. If you want to study land change at a local level, these notes are invaluable. But to get a picture of the whole state, one would need to stitch together thousands of maps and hundreds of thousands of descriptions – a feat for even a computer today. Well, between 1929 and 1931, Francis Marschner took on such a task. From a desk in Washington, he went through the surveyors' notes, word by word, and constructed a map of pre-settlement vegetation for the whole state of Minnesota…
The original vegetation of Minnesota by Marschner.
In recent years, The MN Department of Justice, Department of Transportation and Department of Agriculture have made digital copies of the map. With new mapping technologies, Marschner’s original map can now be overlaid atop satellite images. Check out an overlay of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport (below). You’ll see that the land was once predominately prairie and deciduous hardwood forests. Imagine. Though F.J. Marschner died without ever seeing the beauty of Minnesota he described, his work lives on in this fabulous map, the Marschner Map of Original Vegetation."
Read Lesley's full blog post to learn more about the Marschner Map and see what the vegetation used to be at MSP.

When you overlay Marschner’s map on a satellite image of the airport you also see the historic vegetation at Coldwater Spring and the surrounding area that is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The map shows Coldwater Spring and Fort Snelling were close to the boundary between prairie and forest. This dynamic gradient of prairie to savanna, woodland, and forest can be seen at Coldwater Spring today.
Marschner's map overlaid on satellite imagery of the MSP airport and Coldwater Spring.
Past vegetation guides our restoration by suggesting what a more pristine MSP/Coldwater Spring area might have looked like, and illustrates what we can strive for. Documentation, such as the Marschner map, might seem too old to be useful, but it is actually an important tool that provides context to our newer maps and influences how we manage the park today.

For more information about the Marschner map and the cartographer that created it, visit these articles from the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (search for Marschner or author Tim Brady to locate the article) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Armchair Traveler: No Dampness Required

By Kate Havelin

Lounging comfortably on the sofa, with a cat and a warm cup of tea by my side, I’m game for river adventure. Harold Speakman makes it easy for armchair travelers to explore the river without getting wet. Speakman’s elegant Mostly Mississippi: A Very Damp Adventure chronicles the canoe and houseboat journey he and his wife, Russell, made from Bemidji to New Orleans. Our River Readers Book Club will chat about Mostly Mississippi on Tuesday, February 10 7 PM at Ramsey County Library, Roseville. All are welcome to come, whether you’ve read the book or not.

First published in 1927 and republished in 2004 by the University of Minnesota Press, the book combines expected river adventures -- sunburned hands, mosquito swarms -- with fresh perspectives. Speakman describes portaging their canoe and 250 pounds of supplies with a borrowed horse cart; buying wild rice from the Palisade general store for 25 cents a pound; and seeing the newly built Ford Bridge and the “great plant” from which Ford cars “will soon be shipped down the river.”

Harold Speakman painting
of St. Paul Cathedral
Both Harold and Russell Speakman were artists; their drawings and paintings sweeten the travelogue. Some scenes, like this sketch of St. Paul's skyline, capture a moment in time. Some sections are timeless.  Speakman delicately describes the ups and downs of two people traveling in close quarters for months. “There arose a warm and rigorous conflict of ideas concerning the art of navigation. After a few miles of it, we agreed to call the battle off; and we went on, a little silent and crestfallen, because then, as so often in moments of best intention, we had not quite achieved as shining a goal as we had hoped.”

Russell Speakman
When their trip began, Russell was the sole experienced paddler. Harold didn’t know how to canoe or pitch a tent, but the recently married pair were hardy travelers, both game and resourceful. Their attitudes sustained them through rough weather and waters. Speakman describes “a most disgustingly bitter wind for early September.” I hold a steamy cup of tea while reading happily about relentless rains. “We shivered, we froze. We went to bed in everything but our shoes.”

They inadvertently shoot the rapids at Sauk Rapids. (Confession: Until I read this book, I never considered why Sauk had its name. Now, I’ll remember Sauk Rapid’s rocks and rushing waters.)

Harold Speakman
I love the gentle descriptions of familiar places now grown beyond what the Speakmans saw decades ago. “Monticello, Elk River, Anoka….Quiet villages, these, on a quiet, lovely stretch of river. Dayton too, the quietest village of all, hiding like a memory of New England among avenues of ancient trees…”

Russsell Speakman
Once the couple reached St. Paul, they bid farewell to their gaudy red canoe and moved into a tired and leaky houseboat that carried them south to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1928, a year after Mostly Mississippi was published, Harold died tragically at age forty. He had fought in World War I in Italy, served as a peacekeeper in Montenegro, and wrote eight books including travelogues of Shanghai, Ireland, and Palestine. Russell Speakman continued working, painting murals in New York. She died in 1988.

Nearly a century after their journey, the Speakmans’ Mostly Mississippi: A Very Damp Adventure remains fresh and worth reading, fine entertainment for a winter evening.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fight the Winter Blues

by Katie Nyberg, Executive Director, Mississippi River Fund

Ah, January, the month when it seems like everyone you know is jetting off to Florida or Mexico to escape the weather. Like many parents in Minneapolis, I am working from home today because school is closed due to dangerously cold temperatures. While I understand the decision by the school to protect our kids, I am also struck by how cold weather doesn’t ever seem to stop our park employees. Just yesterday, I witnessed ranger Allie and a team of volunteers pack up to survey otter activity at the river. Several hours later, they returned, partially frozen and elated with the number of otter tracks and slides right in the heart of the metro.
Volunteers Kinnell Tacket and Katy Goodwin survey otter activity on the river.
This Saturday is Winter Trails Day at Fort Snelling State Park. Each year, regardless of the temperature, Ranger Brian and his crack team of volunteers are out there at Winter Trails Day with giant saws literally sawing off big sheets of ice on the river to demonstrate ice harvesting. Modern conveniences (like the refrigerator!) have saved most of us from working outside every day in harsh conditions, but it doesn’t mean Minnesotans are sitting around by the fire all day. Our nearly combative attitude towards the month of January is expressed in some of our community’s most cherished events—from the City of Lakes Loppet to Winter Carnival to Crashed Ice.
Ranger Brian and a brave volunteer harvest ice on Winter Trails Day
Let’s all be proud Minnesotans and get outside this winter. We’ll impress our friends and family from around the country with our heartiness and zest for outdoor recreation. Together with the park, we’ve got several winter events for you in the coming weeks. Check out a complete list at

Not inspired yet? Check out this short video, then plan your next park visit…

We hope to see you outside soon!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Embracing winter weather at Winter Trails Day

Happy new year from the Mississippi River Fund! Before we jump headlong into 2015, we thought we’d take just a moment to appreciate the crazy weather that we saw in 2014. Though 2014 was the hottest year on record worldwide, according to a Minnesota Public Radio article published on December 2nd, Minnesota was the “epicenter of global coolness”.

Here are just a few cool facts about Minnesota’s weather in 2014:

•    9th coldest meteorological winter on record last winter
•    Wettest June on record in Minnesota
•    7 of 11 months last year produced colder than average temperatures in Minnesota.
•    Coldest November in 23 years in the Twin Cities.
•    1991 last November colder than November 2014.
•    The Mississippi River had its 6th highest flood on record.

Though we can’t know yet how the winter of 2015 will shape up, the recent cold snap is far from the coldest weather we’ve ever seen. According to the University of Minnesota, the coldest January date on record was in 1875 where the low bottomed out at -34 degrees without the wind chill!

No matter what the temperature, with the right gear almost any day can be a fun day outdoors. Join us this Saturday, January 10th for Winter Trails Day at Fort Snelling State Park. Get outside to celebrate and enjoy winter! REI experts, Fort Snelling State Park Rangers, and National Park Service Rangers will provide free activities that show how fun getting outdoors can be in any weather. Activities include: snowshoeing, cross country skiing, skijoring, ice fishing, ice sculpting, naturalist guided hikes, and traditional ice harvesting. Kids can also learn to build a quinzee, a hut made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. This is in contrast to an igloo, which is made from blocks of hard snow. Join in with snow ranger activities, learn about winter camping and much more. Equipment is provided. REI will also provide hot cocoa and a big bonfire too!

The event is free, but State Park vehicle permit fees still apply - $5 day permit, $25 annual permit.

Let's embrace winter weather together at Winter Trails Day.