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The new Coldwater Unit

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It would seem to be a fairly insignificant piece of land. Vandalized buildings and crumbling roads make it an uninspiring connection between Minnehaha Falls to the north and Fort Snelling to the south. Tucked inside, however, is a spring of considerable significance that ties this small plot of land to a complex mix of history, science, and conflict. Welcome to Coldwater, the newest unit of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA).

Before white settlers, the spring was sacred to the Dakota community (and still is). Camp Coldwater then grew up around the spring while Fort Snelling was being built. It remained a community after the fort was complete and some have called this spot the birthplace of Minnesota. Sometime around the Civil War, the community was mostly abandoned. More than 60 years later, the site hosted a successful Bureau of Mines research facility. The Bureau of Mines was closed in 1995 and the place was abandoned again. In the late 1990s, the site hosted one of the longest protests ever seen in Minnesota. Protesters were angered by the Highway 55 reroute and what they felt were a lack of protections for this historical site. Now the site would make a great post-apocalyptic movie set, but after years of being mostly ignored and neglected Coldwater is set for a major facelift and will become MNRRA's newest unit.

If you haven't visited, you are mostly out of luck (exceptions noted below). The site is closed so the current buildings can be demolished. Once spring arrives, the park service will set about returning the land and a spring-fed creek to a more natural state. A few hiking trails may be added, but the spring and its history will still be the main attractions at Coldwater. It will reopen to the public early in fall 2012.

For more information:

Park Service rangers will lead several free guided hikes while the site is closed. These hikes will be the only way to visit the unit until it reopens. Use their calendar to find open dates.

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