Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Location: Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota

Webpage: National Park

General Description: The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area offers 72 miles of recreational opportunities.  This park is known as a partnership park since NPS does not own or manage any of the 54,000 acres in the park.  Instead it is a partnership between local, state, and federal governments, non-profits, businesses, educational institutions, and individuals.  “Some of the most prominent attractions within the park include the St. Anthony Falls Historic District (including Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, the Stone Arch Bridge, and Mill Ruins Park), the Historic Fort Snelling and the adjacent Fort Snelling State Park, and Minnehaha Falls. There are many additional attractions, trails, and programs all within the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area. There are two Visitor Centers operated by the NPS.  The Mississippi River Visitor Center is located in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul and St. Anthony
Falls Visitor Center at the Upper St. Anthony Lock in Minneapolis.  In addition there are other museums and visitor centers within the park along with hiking trails and numerous access points for water activities.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) We only visited the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center in Minneapolis where we took a short tour of the upper lock which is no longer in operation.  We learned a lot about the history of St. Anthony Falls where the Mississippi drops 100 feet of the overall 400 feet it drops on the way to the Gulf.  It is the only natural falls on the Mississippi and marked the end of navigation on the river until the construction of the lock in 1963.  It was assumed that completion of the lock were spur industrial growth to the north along the river, which never materialized.  So the lock was shut down in 2015.  The falls themselves have seen major work over the years to stabilize the river banks and protect the milling industry that defined Minneapolis.  Today the falls are in two sections to reduce the force, the upper section over a roller dam and the lower over a concrete structure.

2) While we did not walk along the Stone Arch Bridge, it is also located at the upper lock and hard to miss.  Built entirely of stone, the bridge was constructed in 1883 by railroad tycoon, James Hill for his Great Northern Railroad.  The bridge crossed the Mississippi River connecting the industrial west bank of the river to the newer industries on the east bank.  The use of the bridge for trains stopped in 1978 and after a period of disuse, was reconditioned and now used for pedestrian and bike traffic.

StoneArchBridge

3) On the west bank of the Mississippi River next to the upper lock is the Mills Ruin Park.  This park interprets the history of flour milling that built Minneapolis along the west bank of the river.  During the late 1800s, Minneapolis was the world leader in flour milling from the vast agricultural areas in the prairies to the north and west.  The mills were packed together along the west bank with a canal dug between two streets full of mills to provide the water power.  There are few of these mills left today, but archeological work has uncovered structures next to the river. “Along with the remains of several flour mills and other industrial buildings, the park also contains two stone piers and several iron girder piers that held a trestle for the Minneapolis Eastern Railroad. The tailraces from the waterpower canal are also clearly visible, and the water flow has been restored through the canal. Signs posted along the walkways interpret the ruins and the history of the area.”