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Conservation leaders, community members discuss Father Hennepin Bluff’s restoration

The trail near the Mississippi River adds greenery to the city and holds special historic significance.
Image by Eleanor King
Baby ducklings follow their mother on a casual swim through the Mississippi River. Photographed on Wednesday, these birds passed through Father Hennepin Bluff Park on a chilly afternoon. The Lower trail is currently riddled with invasive species and plants the restoration project aims to return to the area’s original ecology.

Conservation leaders and community members gathered at the Pillsbury A-Mill apartment building Tuesday night to discuss the restoration project plan for the Father Hennepin Bluff Lower Trail, also known as East Owamniyomni.

The restoration planning project, initiated by the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA), is led by Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) and Full Circle Indigenous Planning and Design. The plan is largely funded by grant money MHNA received in 2023 from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, according to FMR ecologist Leah Weston.

Cordelia Pierson, a lead volunteer for the Feather Hennepin Bluff Stewards, a volunteer group involved with restoration efforts, welcomed a group of around 15 community members. Pierson said the project’s goals were “being smarter about ecological restoration, integrating indigenous knowing” and “community engagement.”

Father Hennepin Bluff Lower Trail is an around-6-acre public park bordering land owned by Xcel Energy and a sacred site for the Dakota people. The land was historically an oak savanna: sloping land covered with trees growing among wildflowers and grasses, according to Weston.

The Lower Trail is currently riddled with invasive species and needs erosion control measures, according to Weston’s presentation. The primary goal of the plan is to restore pre-colonization native vegetation and species to the area.

Weston, the project manager, presented the plan’s development and goals while seeking feedback from community members, saying both the plan’s biggest challenge and advantage are that so many different groups care about the area’s future.

“In meetings like this, it just feels like such a win because people show up and give feedback and they deeply care about this site, which propels me forward after you’re in the weeds when you’re doing a planning effort,” Weston said.

Sam Olbekson, Full Circle’s founder and CEO, said the design firm’s involvement in the restoration project is minor, but these discussions with the Indigenous community, especially the  Dakota, are important for the long-term success of the area.

“Being invited in a meaningful way to have these discussions is important for the Indigenous community to understand the stewardship, the history and the cultural knowledge that we have to share,” Olbekson said. “It’s important in the long-term success and just [the] simple identity of the place.” 

Pierson said a challenge she has seen since the Hennepin Bluff Stewardship group was formed in 2017 is frustration around the length of projects, like the Lower Trail restoration.

“It is a generational project, so if you expect instant change, you’re going to be disappointed,” Pierson said. “If you are in for the long haul, then it’s really, really rewarding.” 

JoDee Schumer, a lead volunteer with the Hennepin Bluff Stewards, said the restoration efforts attract all types of community members and for her, every aspect of the work is valuable.

“If you’re a garden person or an outdoor person, like I said, we get a real mix of people, and we get big events, and we plant trees, and we take out plants, and everything about it is fulfilling for me,” Schumer said.

Pierson said the satisfaction from working in and enjoying nature is why she and other volunteers are so committed to the project.

“The energy people get from giving some sweat, learning something new, using their muscles, being out in nature, that energy is so powerful,” Pierson said. “That gives me a lot of motivation to keep on organizing people to come to this amazing place.” 

Schumer said places like Father Hennepin Bluff Lower Trail are special to her and deserve protection and care.

“I’m a country gal and I’m living in the middle of a city, and [the Lower Trail is] a treasure and allows me to stay here because I have that in my front yard,” Schumer said. “Why would you not take care of your front yard?”

An hour-long tour of Father Hennepin Bluff Lower Traill led by volunteers will be held on Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. for all interested volunteers.

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  • Amy
    Apr 18, 2024 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for highlighting this great work. Is there a link to learn more about volunteering or the tour on 4/25?