National Parks – Mississippi River

Running for 72 miles through Minneapolis and St Paul is the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area or what I call the Mississippi River National Park.


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The patch on the Ranger uniform

A Park in the City

The Mississippi River divides the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. Many residents seldom cross the river and those that do may not realize the natural treasure that is below them. I’ve mentioned Coldwater Spring in a previous post; it is an old Bureau of Mines site that is being reestablished as a natural habitat through the Park Service. I’m amazed at the many trails and access points to the River all along it’s length – and I’ve only explored a 10 mile stretch of the park!


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Park trails give direct access to the natural waterfront


I usually experience the park while riding my bike on the miles and miles of trails along the river. The bridges across the river are also great places to check in on the trees lining the bluffs and the resident wildlife. During one stop on a group bike ride on Bridge No. 9, a bald eagle flew over our heads with a fish held tightly in his talons. (Sorry, no photos, that was a nature moment that just had to be experienced without a device in hand…)


A Working River

Flour mills at St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis built brands (and fortunes) like Pilsbury, Gold Medal Flour and General Mills that are still with us today. The Mill City Museum is housed in what was the world’s largest flour mill before exploding in the Great Mill Disaster of 1878. The St Anthony Historic District can be explored via the Stone Arch Bridge overlooking the falls. The Stone Arch is a favorite for wedding photos and large-scale public art projects during the Northern Spark overnight art festival.

The River is still a working river with barge traffic moving goods to the transport centers near St Paul. The industrial sections can be fairly gritty and let’s be honest, smelly, but that is a price that is paid in our economy. It’s important for people to know the environmental impacts along the entire supply chain of goods so we can hold producers and regulators accountable for mitigating the damage that occurs. We need the river to be clean now and in the future for all the people and critters that live here – keep in mind that many cities use the Mississippi River as their drinking water supply.

Off my soap box! I’ll take a break to share some of my many River Photos.


River City Revue

Works Progress Studio, an arts group, the National Park Service and the Mississippi River Fund have collaborated to create an event series called River City Revue. Each event explores our relationship with the river from a range of perspectives. When in town, we like to attend the Jonathon Padelford river cruise versions of the Revue; the topics are thought-provoking and I  enjoy being on the water at sunset.




A Full Schedule of Park Events

Here are just some of the highlights from the Park calendar:

  • Surprising but true, I haven’t been on the Bike with a Ranger tour yet. For those without a bike, the Nice Ride MN bike share system can be used to join these tours too!
  • Canoe and kayak trips are held throughout the summer. Many of these are free to the public.
  • Citizen Science projects occur year-round including migrating bird counts, removal of invasive species, and mock-archaeological digs near the Mill City Museum.
  • River Otter counts – these deserve a bullet point of their own since river otters were near extinction in Minnesota but have begun a return to the Mississippi River. Remote cameras are used to study their behavior. Check out some of the info here.


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Canoe race fundraiser for Wilderness Inquiry


If you are ever in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, be sure to check in with this National Park urban jewel! The Park’s Facebook page has more updated and informal info than the official National Park Service site but both are great resources for discovery.


Have you been on the Mighty Mississippi?